In the Triad area, between 400 and 600 people have some form of sickle cell disease, and in the general population, one in 20 individuals carry the sickle cell trait.
Sickle cell disease is an inherited disorder of the red blood cells. Instead of having normal red blood cells, the cells are distorted and die early, causing a constant shortage of red blood cells, resulting in a decrease in oxygen to organs.
Individuals can either be carriers of the sickle cell trait, inheriting one normal hemoglobin gene and one gene for sickle hemoglobin, or have sickle cell disease, which occurs when a person inherits two genes for sickle hemoglobin.
There are different levels of severity of sickle cell disease based on how it is passed down genetically. Individuals with sickle cell disease can have life threatening complications and often experience severe pain crises in various parts of the body.
Those at higher risk for inheriting sickle cell disease include African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and, less commonly, people with ancestry from Greece, western Asia or India.
Within the last ten years, sickle cell disease screening has been included in routine newborn screens for genetic disorders throughout the United States. A test known as a hemoglobinopathy panel is used to determine if an individual has sickle cell disease or if they are a carrier of the trait.
Individuals who have a family history of sickle cell disease and are planning to start a family of their own may want to consider being screened to see if they are carriers of the trait.
Dr. Michelle Matthews is the medical director at Cone Health Sickle Cell Medical Center.
Dr. Matthews received a Doctor of Medicine from Wayne State University School of Medicine in 1998.
She completed her residency in internal medicine and pediatrics at Detroit Medical Center in 2002.