Successfully Treating Sickle Cell Anemia

By using peripheral blood stem cell transplants, the physicians at Bone Marrow Transplant Mexico have succesfully cured patients of Sickle Cell Anemia, an inherited disease that requires a lifetime of management and pain control if not cured. Although the condition is not always treated with bone marrow transplant, severe cases of this disease can seriously affect the sufferer’s quality of life. We offer a free, no-obligation consultation to help you to find out if bone marrow transplant could help to change the life of you or a loved one.

Sickle Cell Anemia is an inherited disease, passed down through families. Its name comes from the abnormally shaped red blood cells of sufferers, which affect the distribution of oxygen around the body. Generally sickle cell anemia affects people of African descent but it is also seen in other ethnic groups, including people with Mediterranean, South and Central American ancestry.

Over 70,000 Americans have sickle cell anemia and 1 in 12 African Americans (2 million Americans) carry the gene for the disease.

How it Works

Red blood cells contain a protein, hemoglobin, which carries oxygen. People with sickle cell anemia have abnormally shaped hemoglobin, known as hemoglobin S (HbS). HbS is very sticky and can clump together in the blood cell, which then changes the shape of the red blood cells from a flexible ‘donut’ to the characteristic rigid sickle shape. Blood cells in someone with sickle cell anemia can change from the healthy disc to the sickle shape and back again, until they become permanently sickle shaped.

The sickle shaped blood cells carry less oxygen to the body’s tissues. Because of their shape, sickle shaped blood cells also get stuck in blood vessels more easily, disrupting healthy blood flow and further interrupting the delivery of oxygen that is needed to keep organs healthy.

Because they are so fragile, sickle shaped red blood cells only last for 10-20 days (whilst healthy read blood cells last for up to 4 months). This causes anemia, and someone with sickle cell will often feel tired and run down.

Inheriting Sickle Cell Anemia

You can only inherit sickle cell anemia if both of your parents have the sickle cell gene. If only one parent has the gene then you may inherit the sickle cell trait, which means that whilst you don’t have the disease itself, you could pass it onto a child if your partner either has the disease or the trait.

Sickle Cell Anemia Symptoms

Symptoms in babies don’t tend to occur until they are around 4 months. Symptoms include:

  • Anemia
  • Increased infection risk (due to limited blood flow)
  • Increased risk of Stroke (due to sickle cells blocking veins)
  • Acute chest syndrome (caused by inflammation or blockages of blood vessels in the lungs)
  • Jaundice (caused by high breakdown of red blood cells)
  • Bouts of severe pain, caused by blocked blood flow to that area of the body
  • Impaired growth and delayed puberty in children

The periods of pain experienced by a person with sickle cell anemia are referred to as pain crises. These vary in length, severity and frequency. One sufferer may experience one crisis every year or two, whilst another may experience regular pain crises. Similarly, for some the crisis may last an hour, for others days.  The pain can occur in any part of the body, including stomach, legs, lungs and even eyes, affecting vision.

Diagnosis and Treatment

To diagnose sickle cell anemia, doctors use a blood test called hemoglobin electrophoresis, which examines a patient’s blood to see if it contains the sickle cell gene. They may also look at your full blood count.

Complications that arise from sickle cell anemia can be very severe and a hospital stay may be necessary to control symptoms and infection. Although it does not tend to be life-threatening in younger patients, older patients could die as the result of conditions caused by the disease.

Treating Sickle Cell Anemia

All treatments for sickle cell anemia tend to look at the long term management and control of the symptoms.  All patients will need to continue treatment for life, even when they are not suffering from a pain crisis.

On-going treatment for sickle cell anemia includes:

  • Prescribed folic acid, to promote new red blood cell production
  • Blood transfusions, to regulate blood count and prevent stroke.
  • Pain medication (although this needs to be carefully considered as narcotic pain killers are addictive)
  • Other medications and antibiotics to minimize pain crises and infections.

If the disease carries serious complications for the patient, they may also require dialysis or kidney transplant, gallbladder removal, joint replacement, eye surgery and treatment for ulcers, all caused by the deprivation of oxygen to the organs and tissues or the mass breakdown of red blood cells.

Bone Marrow Transplant is the only treatment that is known to cure sickle cell anemia, rather than manage it, as it replaces the HbS producing bone marrow with healthy, normal hemoglobin producing stem cells.

BMT and Sickle Cell Anemia

Not many patients with sickle cell anemia are able to undergo bone marrow treatment in their home country, for practical and financial reasons. One allogeneic transplant in America can cost over $800,000 and insurance companies and health care providers are either unable to, or unwilling to, cover the costs of such a procedure.

Additionally, people with sickle cell anemia are less likely to find a matching donor. This is because of the genetic complications associated with the disease. One option for many people who struggle to find a suitable bone marrow match is umbilical cord blood transplant, which involves the use of blood taken from the umbilical cord and placenta minutes after the birth of a baby. A good match is less important with cord blood transplants and tends to present lower risk of graft versus host disease or rejection.

The Only Cure For Sickle Cell Anemia

Most other treatment programs for sickle cell anemia aim to relieve pain and manage complications, helping a patient to live with the disease. We believe in curing the disease so that our patients don’t have to live with the pain, infections and complications that arise from severe cases of sickle cell anemia.

Regular blood transfusions can encourage your body to produce antibodies which could potentially affect the success of a future transplant. If you are considering bone marrow transplant for yourself or your child, it is advisable that you let your doctors know so that they can limit the number of treatments you receive and give you specially irradiated blood that has had the antibody-stimulating cells removed.

If you would like a free consultation please contact us.