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Health Information For Kids
Sickle cell disease is a disease of the blood. Red blood cells usually look like round discs. But in sickle cell disease, they’re shaped like crescent moons, or an old farm tool known as a sickle.
A round disc is the healthiest shape for red blood cells because they can move easily through the blood vessels of the body to get oxygen where it needs to go.
When red blood cells are shaped like sickles, they can get stuck, especially inside smaller blood vessels. This keeps blood from flowing as it should, which can cause pain and damage to parts of the body.
Kids who have sickle cell disease may feel pain in different parts of the body when blood vessels get clogged with sickle cells. The pain can last a few hours or several days, and it might hurt a lot or just a little. When this happens, it’s called a sickle cell crisis or pain crisis (“crisis” means a time of trouble).
Nobody knows exactly when sickle cells might get stuck or which blood vessels might get clogged. Some things can lead to a sickle cell crisis, like if a person gets too cold, gets sick, has a lot of stress, or doesn’t drink enough liquids. Doctors and nurses can help by giving medicine to make the pain better.
Because kids with sickle cell disease don’t have enough normal red blood cells, they may get tired a lot. They also can get infections more than other kids do. They may not grow as fast as their friends. Sometimes the skin and whites of their eyes have a yellowish color, known as jaundice (say: JON-dus), and they may have to go to the bathroom a lot.
Sickle cell disease is an inherited (say: in-HAIR-uh-ted) disease. That means you can’t catch it from other people like you can catch a cold or the flu. Kids are born with the disease when both parents pass along the sickle cell gene to their children.
Kids with sickle cell disease should get all recommended vaccinations. Most also take penicillin (say: pen-uh-SIL-in), a drug that helps prevent infections. A doctor may also prescribe a vitamin called folic acid, which helps the body make new red blood cells. Another medicine, hydroxyurea (say: hi-drok-see-yu-REE-uh), can make sickled red blood cells less sticky and less likely to cause problems.
Taking medicine does not cure sickle cell disease, but it can help keep kids who have it from getting sick. Pain medicine also helps them feel better when they have a sickle cell crisis. Kids with sickle cell disease may need to go to the hospital if they have a lot of pain or a serious infection. At the hospital, they can get liquids, antibiotics, or other medicine.
Sometimes kids with sickle cell disease need blood transfusions (say: trans-FEW-zyuns). That’s a way to put healthy blood cells right into a kid’s body.
In some cases, a bone marrow transplant can cure sickle cell disease. Bone marrow transplants replace the sickle cells with healthy cells from someone else. They are risky and not right for everyone, so scientists are working on finding other ways to cure sickle cell disease.
Having sickle cell disease can be frustrating and sometimes painful. To help manage sickle cell disease:
Why does one kid have green eyes while another kid’s eyes are brown? It’s all in the genes! Find out how genes work, what happens when there are problems with genes, and more.
It may seem scary to go to a hospital, but doctors and nurses are there to help people who are sick or hurt feel better. Read our article for kids to find out what happens inside a hospital.
When your body is injured in some way, your nerves send messages to your brain about what’s going on. Your brain then makes you feel pain. Read our pain-free article for kids.
What does it mean when a kid has anemia? Learn about anemia, why kids get it, and how it’s treated in our article for kids.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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