Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle cell disease (SCD) or sickle cell anemia is a genetic disorder that is predominant in sub-Saharan Africa but also occurs in India and the Arabian peninsula.

The disease is characterized by abnormally shaped red blood cells, which appear crescent-shaped, elongated, and stiffened. The sickle shape results from a mutation in the hemoglobin. This change in morphology hinders red blood cells from passing through capillaries, reducing their ability to deliver oxygen around the body.

Symptoms include attacks of pain, also called sickle-cell crisis, anemia, and painful swelling in the hands and feet.

SCD is typically diagnosed with the help of blood tests. Complete blood counts can reveal a decreased hemoglobin level and in peripheral blood smears, one can detect the morphological abnormality of RBCs (see Figure 1).

Treatment primarily focuses on managing pain, and symptoms and preventing complications. Transfusions of red blood cells, as well as bone marrow and stem cell transplants, are some approaches used in severe cases of this disorder.

Microscopy image of a blood smear from a patient with sickle cell disease. It shows more than one hundred red blood cells, some platelets and a leukocyte. The red blood cells are stained bright red and while some show the regular rounded, discoid shape, others are elongated into a sickle-shape.

Figure 1: Blood smear of a patient with SCD revealing the typical crescent-shaped morphology of RBCs.

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