September is National Sickle Cell Awareness Month

Early diagnosis key to sickle cell treatment
One in 12 African Americans have sickle cell trait

By Drs. Lilly Mathew, Lisa Giordano, and Dipti Dighe
Pediatric Hematologists at Cook County Health & Hospitals System

September marks the beginning of the fall season and it also is National Sickle Cell Awareness Month. Sickle cell disease affects 70,000 to 100,000 Americans, including one in 500 African Americans. The sickle cell trait affects one in 12 African Americans – and while it is not associated with clinical symptoms, the trait can be passed on to offspring.

Detecting sickle cell disease is done through a simple blood test. Prenatal testing is available as early as 10 weeks into a pregnancy. And all newborns in Illinois are tested for sickle cell disease and trait at birth.

Sickle cell disease is a disorder in which the body makes abnormally shaped red blood cells. As the name implies, cells are “sickle-shaped,” like a crescent. Instead of flowing smoothly through the body like disc-shaped red blood cells, sickle cells’ shape blocks blood flow – which in turn can lead to pain, organ damage, strokes and a higher risk of infection.

While stem cell transplants are the only known cure for sickle cell disease, that intervention is reserved for those patients with the most severe complications. To manage the disease, many people choose easy and accessible treatment, which continues to improve.

Cook County Health & Hospitals System doctors will ensure that patients with sickle cell disease receive vaccines to reduce the risk of pneumococcal, meningitis, influenza and hepatitis infections. Our patients also benefit from comprehensive care with ongoing education, risk reduction strategies and management of the various complications of the disease. A healthy lifestyle, including eating nutritious foods, maintaining hydration, and staying active is important for all patients.

Management of sickle cell disease is covered under CountyCare, an Illinois Medicaid Health Plan supported by the Cook County Health & Hospitals System (CCHHS).

Patients with sickle cell disease may develop complications including pneumonia, severe anemia, gallstones and leg ulcers. Patients should contact their provider right away if they experience the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Severe Headaches
  • Jaundice (including yellowish color in the whites of the eyes)
  • Pale skin
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Fever

At CCHHS’ Pediatric Hematology Clinic, specialists provide counseling, extensive education and ongoing care to help keep individuals healthy and prevent complications of the disease.

CCHHS is recognized by the Illinois Department of Public Health for counseling and comprehensive sickle cell management for infants, children, and adults with sickle cell disease.