Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a genetic, hereditary and lifelong group of inherited conditions that affects red blood cells. The most serious type is called sickle cell anemia and is mostly found in people of African, Asian, Caribbean, Eastern Mediterranean or Middle Eastern origin. Sufferers of SCD possess weirdly shaped red blood cells that have an adverse effect on how long they live and in addition causes them to get stuck in blood vessels.
A sickle cell carrier is an individual who carries one of the faulty sickle cell genes but does not actually have the disease itself. These people have the sickle cell trait but will never actually develop the disease. However, carriers such as these are at risk of having children with sickle cell if their partner is also a carrier. This is how the disease is passed on and so it is important to get tested to know if you are a carrier or not.
Sickle cell disease victims have a built-in resistance to Malaria as the parasite finds it difficult to attach itself to the oddly shaped red blood cells. This also partly explains why it is largely common in tropical areas where malaria is more prevalent, it is a classic example of natural selection and evolution in effect. Sickle cell, in many ways, is the human adaptation to deal with the malaria parasite, unfortunately it also comes with its own adverse side effects.
Sickle cell victims have episodes or bouts of extreme pain that can last anywhere from hours, days or even weeks. In addition to this they also suffer from anemia and chronic tissue and organ damage. These episodes are most often referred to as a sickle cell crisis.
Below are a list of do’s and don’ts that may help a sickle cell victim to prevent and manage as many crises as possible;
Dealing with the pain
Although the severity of the pain can be different from person to person, here are a few general guidelines to follow.
- Speak regularly with your doctor – Talking to your doctor about your symptoms and problems may allow you to discover new ways to deal with the pain which can range from painkillers to physical therapy.
- Try to identify the pain triggers – Anytime you suddenly feel some pain, try to figure what exactly caused it.
- Figure out what works best for you – Not everyone is the same and so it is best to find the method of pain relief that works for you. It can range from warm baths and massages to listening to music and hanging out with friends.
- Taking Medication – Although some over the counter medication such as ibuprofen may help relieve some pain, it is important to take it with caution as they may damage your kidneys.
Exercise in Moderation
It is important to stay physically active in order to stay healthy but at the same time, it should not be overdone. You should generally get about two and a half hours of exercise, such as biking or walking, a week.
Try to get plenty of water, at least 8 glasses a day, as being dehydrated increases your risk of having a crisis. More is needed in hot weather or on days that you exercise.
Eat a balanced diet
Make sure to get enough fruits, whole grains, proteins and vegetables while cutting down on sugary, fried and fatty foods. Taking a good multivitamin supplement without iron is also advisable.
Things to avoid if you have SCD
- High Altitudes – The lack of oxygen at high altitudes might trigger a crisis. This however, do not apply to airplanes as they have pressurized cabins.
- Extreme Temperatures – You may trigger a crisis by being too hot or too cold. Swift temperature changes are also not good.
- Alcohol – This severely dehydrates the body and so you should generally stay away.
- Infections – Being sick often is common for people with SCD. It is important to wash your hands and food before consumption and staying as hygienic as possible.
- Smoking – This can trigger acute chest syndrome, which is when the oxygen flow to your lungs are blocked by red blood cells which have been stuck together.
- Stress – This is difficult to avoid as it is part of everyday life, however it is important to find different methods to help relax and calm you down.
- Heavy physical labor – Although moderate exercise is good, you should avoid overexerting yourself with intense exercises or physical activities that leave you breathless.