Sickle cell disease (SCD) is an inherited group of disorders that affects hemoglobin, the molecule in red blood cells that delivers oxygen to cells throughout the body. People with this disorder have atypical hemoglobin molecules called hemoglobin S.
Unfortunately, there is no cure widely available for SCD. Early diagnosis is crucial, so newborns are screened for SCD at birth. Since this is a chronic condition, there are steps that can be taken to treat complications from SCD in babies and children. Initial treatment includes:
- Routine childhood immunizations and other vaccines to prevent certain illnesses.
- Daily antibiotics (penicillin) from 2 months to 5 years of age as these kids are vulnerable to certain types of serious bacterial infections..
- Multivitamin supplements with iron during infancy.
- Folic acid supplements daily.
There has been some success in treating SCD with stem cell transplants. In a stem cell transplant for SCD, stem cells taken from a healthy person are put into a person with SCD. However, this procedure is extremely risky and can have serious side effects, so parents are urged to talk to their child’s doctors and do a lot of research before coming to this decision.
Blood transfusions can benefit some sickle cell disease patients by reducing recurrent pain, risk of stroke and other complications. Transcranial ultrasound, which measures blood flow in the arteries of the head and neck, is used to screen children with SCD to determine their risk of stroke. If test results show a high chance for stroke, your child may get blood transfusions to lower the risk.
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Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, February 2019
- There is no cure widely available for SCD, so early intervention to prevent the most common complications of SCD is key.
- Children with sickle cell disease are cared for by a Pediatric Hematologist in addition to their pediatrician.
- A baby’s treatment can include penicillin prophylaxis, vaccination against pneumococcus bacteria and folic acid supplementation.
- If test results show a high chance for stroke, blood transfusions may lower the risk.