Raising awareness for sickle cell disease

September is National Sickle Cell Awareness Month, and when it comes to assessing and treating sickle cell disease, there is no other place in the world like the Georgia Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center at Grady Memorial Hospital.

James R. Eckman, MD

James R. Eckman, MD, with a patient

Led by James R. Eckman, MD, pioneering medical director and professor of medicine at Emory School of Medicine, the Center is the world’s first 24-hour comprehensive primary care clinic for patients with sickle cell syndromes. It is comprised of a multidisciplinary team with the a mission to educate and provide preventative and comprehensive primary care, while responding to sickle cell emergencies quickly and efficiently.

Millions of people worldwide suffer from the affects of sickle cell anemia – especially those of African, Mediterranean and Indian descent. According to CDC, more than 70,000 people in the United States have sickle cell disease, mostly African Americans. Each year more than 1,000 babies are born with sickle cell disease.

The inherited disorder affects the blood’s hemoglobin, which produces stiff, misshapen red blood cells that deliver less oxygen and can disrupt blood flow, resulting in joint and organ damage and potential clots and strokes. The sickling of red blood cells is aggravated by infections, extreme hot or cold temperatures, poor oxygen intake, not drinking enough fluids and stress.

Eckman says his Center is a unique resource – the only place in the world where patients can be treated 24 hours a day, seven days a week for sickle cell. He notes that the Center functions with admissions, emergency room and short-stay center. A patient can be admitted in 10- to 15-minutes, versus three hours in an ER. Eckman says the more quickly you treat the pain, the more likely it is to be controlled.

Facts About Sickle Cell Anemia

  • Sickle cell disease is an inherited disorder involving the chemical known as hemoglobin contained in red blood cells. Hemoglobin carries oxygen to all parts of the body. When sickle hemoglobin loses its oxygen, it forms long rods inside the red blood cells. This causes the red blood cell to lose its round, donut shape and form a hard, sickle, crescent shape.
  • Unlike normal red blood cells that are disc-shaped and move easily through the blood vessels, sickle cells are stiff and sticky and tend to form clumps and get stuck in the blood vessels.
  • The clumps of sickle cells block blood flow in the blood vessels that lead to the limbs and organs. Blocked blood vessels can cause pain, serious infections and organ damage.
  • Sickle cell disease primarily affects individuals of African descent, but can affect people from Italy, Greece, Israel, India, Pakistan, Spain, Central America, the Caribbean and many other ethnic groups.
  • Sudden pain throughout the body is a common symptom of sickle cell anemia. This pain is called a “sickle cell crisis.” Sickle cell crises often affect the bones, lungs, abdomen and joints.
  • Early diagnosis of sickle cell anemia is very important. Children who have the disease need prompt and proper treatment.

Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for additional information about sickle cell disease.

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