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Sickle Cell and your Baby

Sickle Cell and your Baby

Sickle cell disease (also called SCD) is a condition in which the red blood cells in your body are shaped like a sickle (like the letter C).

 Red blood cells carry oxygen to the rest of your body. In a healthy person, red blood cells are round and flexible. They flow easily in the blood. A person with SCD has red blood cells that are stiff and can block blood flow. This can cause pain, infections and, sometimes, organ damage and strokes.

In the United States, SCD is most common among Blacks and Hispanics. SCD affects about 1 in 500 Black births and about 1 in 36,000 Hispanic births in this country.  It is estimated by some that SCD affects approximately 100,000 Americans and SCD occurs among about 1 out of every 365 African American births and about 1 in 13 African American babies are born with the sickle cell trait. SCD is also common among people with family from Africa, the Caribbean, Greece, India, Italy, Malta, Sardinia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey or South or Central America. SCD and SCT impact African Americans at disproportionate rates. This is simply because they both are evolutionary traits that individuals develop in response to help protect them from malaria. Around 50% of the global population live in areas where malaria exists. 

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All babies have a newborn screening test for SCD. Newborn screening checks for serious but rare and mostly treatable conditions at birth. It includes blood, hearing, and heart screening. With newborn screening, SCD can be found and treated early.

Before your baby leaves the hospital, his health care provider takes a few drops of blood from his heel. The blood is collected and dried on a special paper and sent to a lab for testing. The lab then sends the results back to your baby’s provider.

If newborn screening results aren’t normal, it simply means your baby needs more testing. Your baby’s provider can recommend another kind of test, called a diagnostic test. This test can check to see if your baby has SCD or if there is some other cause for abnormal test results.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for SCD, however research shows that a bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplant can help. If successful, a bone marrow transplant can cure sickle cell disease, however that comes with very significant risks if the patient is older

Children with sickle cell disease and their families can work together to help prevent complications by taking these steps:

-Stay well-hydrated, as dehydration can make cells more likely to sickle.

-Avoid extremes of temperature, especially cold, as this also can trigger sickling of the cells.

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-Avoid areas of high altitude, where there is less oxygen.

Take care with very vigorous exercise, which may decrease the amount of oxygen available to the blood.

-Wash hands regularly and avoid sick people to the extent possible.

–Get all recommended vaccinations.

Learn all the signs and symptoms of blocked blood vessels, anemia, a swollen spleen, infection, blood clots, and lung problems, so that they know when to get medical care immediately. Ask your child’s doctor or medical team to help you understand key warning signs for each of these based on your child’s age.

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