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What is sickle cell disease?

SCD is a genetic condition that is present at birth. In SCD, the red blood cells become hard and sticky and look like a C-shaped farm tool called a “sickle.” The sickle cells die early, which causes a constant shortage of red blood cells. Also, when they travel through small blood vessels, they get stuck and clog the blood flow. This can cause pain and other serious problems. It is inherited when a child receives two sickle cell genes—one from each parent. A person with SCD can pass the disease or SCT on to his or her children.

In sickle cell disease, the instructions that tell RBCs how to make hemoglobin are different. This means that hemoglobin comes out the wrong shape, which makes the RBCs lose their normal shape, too, and become curved and stiff. Curved RBCs wear out faster than normal ones, so they’re broken down more quickly. Hemoglobin gets broken down, too, and without enough hemoglobin, the body can’t get all the oxygen it needs. This causes problems for people with sickle cell disease, like feeling weak, tired, and short of breath. 

Sickle cell disease (also called SCD) is an inherited condition (passed from parents to children in genes) in which red blood cells in the body are shaped like a sickle (like the letter C). A person with SCD has red blood cells that are stiff and can block blood flow. This can cause pain, infections and, sometimes, organ damage and strokes. If you or your partner has SCD, you can pass it to your baby. Ask your healthcare provider to help you find a genetic counselor who can help you understand your chances of passing SCD to your baby. Learn more at: marchofdimes.org

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.