What is sickle cell disease?

Sickle cell disease is a group of red blood cell disorders. Healthy red blood cells look like round donuts. Sickle cell disease affects the hemoglobin in red blood cells, which:

  • Makes the cells stiff, sticky, and “C” shaped (like a sickle or crescent moon)
  • Makes it harder for red blood cells to flow through blood vessels
  • May cause sickle cells to get stuck in smaller blood vessels and clump together. When this happens, organs and tissues may not get enough blood supply, which can cause pain and damage.

Sickle cells don’t live as long as normal red blood cells. This can lead to anemia (when the blood does not have enough or healthy red blood cells).

Three common types of sickle cell disease

Our expert team treats the three most common types of sickle cell disease.

  • Sickle cell anemia (HbSS) is the most common and most severe type of sickle cell disease. It causes chronic anemia.
  • Sickle cell with hemoglobin C disease (HbSC) comes with moderate anemia and more mild symptoms.
  • Hemoglobin S-beta-thalassemia causes a range of symptoms from mild to severe.

Our doctors also treat less common forms of sickle cell disease.

How is sickle cell disease diagnosed?

Most children are diagnosed at birth when a simple blood test checks for sickle cell disease. Sometimes it is detected before birth. 

Treatments for sickle cell disease

Sickle cell disease treatment aims to keep your child healthy and pain-free. We offer many types of treatment, including:

  • Immunizations — to prevent many infections
  • Transcranial Doppler ultrasound — to check blood flow in the brain and help prevent strokes.
  • Blood transfusions — to ease a pain crisis with donated blood
  • Hydroxyurea —a medicine that boosts the amount of fetal hemoglobin in blood cells. This helps the blood cells flow more easily, which can prevent pain crises and other complications.
  • Strategies to prevent and manage pain
  • Apheresis — to help remove sickle cells and replace them with normal red blood cells. Blood is removed, separated into plasma and blood cells, then healthy cells are then put back into the body. 
  • Hospitalization — when needed to help control a pain crisis. Care teams may suggest hydration, medicines and/or blood transfusions during your child’s stay.

If your newborn or young child has been diagnosed with sickle cell disease, you likely have a lot of questions. The good news is, with the right care, many children with sickle cell live long, healthy lives. Many take part in the same activities other children enjoy, including sports.

Early treatment is important. Although sickle cell disease is the most common genetic disorder in the United States we’re the only hospital in Arkansas to diagnose, evaluate and treat children who have sickle cell disease. We’ll work with you to create the best treatment plan for your child’s specific type of sickle cell disease and symptoms.