Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is a genetic disease of the red blood cells. It is characterized by painful episodes, lower resistance to infections, organ damage, anemia, joint degeneration, strokes, and other health problems. SCD occurs when a child inherits a hemoglobin gene that sickles from both parents. In this case, the child is born with the disease.
Sickle Cell Trait (SCT) occurs when a child inherits a normal hemoglobin gene and a sickle gene. This results in a carrier of the sickle cell gene. SCT is harmless. The concern about the trait is that this abnormal gene can be passed to a child.
Signs of the disease begin in childhood. Symptoms occur at the age of one or two years. Jaundice occurs and the child becomes pale because of low blood count. The child will tire easily, eat poorly, and complain of pain. Symptoms of the disease become severe when there is a “crisis.” A crisis occurs when the blood count is very low. This may be precipitated by a cold, or when oxygen to the blood is deprived.
In the United States, one in ten African-Americans carry the trait. One in 350 has the disease. One in 25 Hispanics carry the trait; one in 1,000 has the disease. The disease/trait is found among people whose ancestors came from Africa, Greece, Italy, Arabia, India, Asia and the Caribbean.