Sickle Cell: What is Sickle Cell Disease?

Sickle cell disease is an inherited disorder of the red blood cells. Instead of having normal flexible round red blood cells, those affected have sickle-shaped and rigid cells, which can cause blockages in circulation when they stack together. They also have a shorter life span than normal, caused by a shortage of red blood cells, or anemia.

Those at higher risk for inheriting sickle cell disease include African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and people with ancestry from Greece, western Asia or India.

Some of the most common signs of sickle cell are periodic episodes of pain, anemia and jaundice. Individuals with sickle cell disease can have life-threatening complications, and often experience severe pain crises in various parts of the body.

Fortunately, sickle cell can be managed to prevent symptomatic episodes, decrease the occurrence of commonly related health conditions and increase red blood cell production. Long-term management of sickle cell disease involves a combination of proper preventative measures, such as anticipating crises before they happen, immunizations and screenings, as well as disease-specific measures, such as patient education on proper lifestyle modifications and medication.

Complications of sickle cell disease can be life-threatening and include stroke, infection, kidney disease, pulmonary hypertension, anemia and retinol disease.

Sickle cell is inherited and passed down from parent to child. Individuals can either have the sickle cell trait, called carriers, 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. Individuals with a family history of sickle cell disease and planning to start a family of their own may want to consider being screened to see if they are carriers of the trait. A test known as a hemoglobinopathy panel is used to determine if an individual has sickle cell disease or if they are a carrier.

Cone Health is here to partner with patients throughout their journey, from screening to diagnosis, treatment and prevention of complications through regular clinic follow up at the Cone Health Patient Care Center.

Spokesperson Background:

Olu Jegede, MD, MHA, FAAP, FACP, CPE, is an internal medicine specialist and the care division medical director for Cone Health’s Community Care Services. In this role, he leads the Community Health and Wellness Center, Transitional Care Clinic, Patient Care Center and Renaissance Family Medicine Center. Dr. Jegede completed medical school at the Ahmadu Bello University College of Human Medicine and his residency at Hurley Medical Center. He also received a Master of Healthcare Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.