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What Is Sickle Cell Disease?

Sickle cell disease is a group of disorders passed from parents to children (genetic) that includes sickle cell anemia.

It is a condition in which the red blood cells can take on a curved shape, like a sickle. Normal red blood cells are round, soft discs, like doughnuts without holes.

In sickle cell disease, red blood cells start out normal, but if they are stressed they become curved, hard and sticky.

When cells "sickle" it is hard for them to move through the bloodstream. Though they are very small, the sickle cells can keep blood from flowing well and cause pain and other damage.

Sickle cells don't last as long as normal red blood cells, and the body can't make new red blood cells fast enough to replace them.

Having sickle cells can also lead to anemia. Anemia is a low level of red blood cells in the blood, which can make it harder to deliver oxygen around the body.

Sickle Cell Disease in Children

Sickle cell disease is passed down in families. It can be passed down by parents who have sickle cell disease and also by parents who have sickle cell trait.

Having sickle cell trait means you received the sickle cell gene from one parent but not the other. People with sickle cell trait do not have sickle cell disease. They are not sick, but they do carry the chance of passing the sickle cell gene to their children or of having a child with sickle cell disease.

Having sickle cell disease means you received the sickle cell gene from both of your parents.

If both parents have sickle cell trait:

  • There's a 1 in 4 chance their child will get normal blood from both parents. The child will not carry the trait and will not have sickle cell disease.
  • There's a 2 in 4 chance their child will get the sickle cell gene from only one parent. The child will carry the trait but will not have sickle cell disease.
  • There's a 1 in 4 chance their child will get the sickle cell gene from both parents. The child will have sickle cell disease.

If you have a parent, sibling or child with sickle cell trait or sickle cell disease, there's a chance that you (and others in your family) may have the trait, too. Read about getting tested for sickle cell trait.

Sickle cell trait is more common in people of African descent than in people from other parts of the world. It's also common in people from Spanish-speaking regions, Saudi Arabia, India and some places around the Mediterranean Sea.

Learn more about our Sickle Cell Program.

Sickle Cell Disease at Seattle Children's

Our team works with and follows patients with sickle cell disease throughout Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. Our services extend even to patients who never visit our clinic in person.

We provide direct care to patients at Odessa Brown, and at our hospital main campus in Seattle if patients need a hospital stay.

We also consult with patients, families, doctors and school staff who are too far away to visit us in person. We want to help make sure families with sickle cell get whatever they need, wherever they are.

Learn more about our Sickle Cell Program.

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Summer 2014: Good Growing Newsletter

In This Issue

  • Understanding the Power and Influence of Role Models
  • Legal Marijuana Means Greater Poisoning Risks for Children
  • Why Choose Pediatric Emergency Care?

Download Summer 2014 (PDF)