What is sickle cell disease?

The sickle cell gene is found in people of West Indian and African origin. It is common to be a carrier (this is called sickle cell trait) and this usually causes mild anaemia and is only a problem sometimes when undergoing an anaesthetic. The full blown sickle cell disease causes a severe illness with frequent bouts of red blood cells containing the abnormal haemoglobin changing to a ''sickle'' shape in blood vessels if oxygen levels drop. Often even a mild infection can trigger this off, and blood clots restricts blood supply to those parts of the body affected causing pain and organ damage. Ultimately, life expectancy in people with the full disease is reduced but medical progress is dramatically improving survival and quality of life.
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