LIVING WITH SICKLE CELL

Medical advances have made it possible for people with Sickle cell to lead a fully functional productive life.  To achieve this, the individual must be willing to take responsibility for their health and be able to take proactive measures to prevent complications which can arise if the condition is poorly managed sickle cell disease.

Some potential complications are mentioned below.

Know the complications of sickle cell disease

These include

Early complications form part of the signs and symptoms of sickle cell. They are:

  • Painful joints of the hands and feet
  • Persistent tiredness
  • Body swelling
  • Anaemia
  • Yellowing of the eyes and mucous membranes

Major complications of sickle cell disease can be life-threatening.

They include:

  • Sickle cell crisis. This is characterised by sudden sharp pains. It occurs when sickled red blood cells block blood vessels and certain parts of the body are starved of oxygen and nutrients. There is blood stagnation and infarcts can occur. Some areas are more likely to be affected by this pain than others. They include parts of the body where blood naturally slows down due to a heavy network of small blood vessels – capillaries. These areas include:
  • The arms
  • The chest
  • The lower back
  • The abdomen and
  • The legs
  • Severe anaemia. This follows repeated episodes of blood cells breakdown. It can also occur due to many red blood cells getting trapped in the spleen. This leads to fewer circulating red blood cells. In children, this situation can easily proof fatal. A third cause of severe anaemia is viral infection.
  • Recurrent infections. The spleen and the blood system form vital parts of the immune system. Since these systems are already compromised, people suffering from sickle cell disease are more prone to infections. The infections can affect various parts that can include:
  • Lung infections
  • Blood infections (life-threatening in most cases)
  • Bone infections
  • Brain lining infections
  • Collapsed lung. This can be part or parts of the lungs. This is a medical emergency
  • Stroke. Parts of the brain can be damaged which leads to neurological problems in parts of the body served by that part of the brain.
  • Impaired vision
  • Heart problems
  • Kidney problems
  • Priapism. When red blood cells clog the capillaries in the male genitalia, the ensuing blood congestion can lead to a persistent erection. This is a surgical emergency to prevent permanent damage to the penis.
  • Chronic sores
  • Pregnancy complications.

There are many more complications associated with this condition. If you have this disorder, always be conscious of any sudden health issues and seek help quickly. Bigger children should be trained to identify complications and parents should be trained on how to identify problems in small children who may not be able to verbally communicate their feelings.

Know the triggering factors of a sickle cell crisis

If you know what can trigger a crisis, then you can do all that you can to minimise the risk of the crisis from occurring. Risk factors include:

  • Infections. Do all that you can to reduce your chances of getting an infection. Consider dietary and lifestyle measures among other steps.
  • Sudden temperature changes. Avoid exposure to sudden and extreme changes in temperature.
  • A dehydrated body. Take adequate fluids to keep your body well-hydrated.
  • Avoid going to high altitudes. The relative low oxygen concentration in such an environment is bad for you.
  • Stressful situations. Persistent stress can trigger a crisis – avoid it.

Know the triggering factors of a sickle cell crisis

If you know what can trigger a crisis, then you can do all that you can to minimise the risk of the crisis from occurring. Risk factors include:

  • Infections. Do all that you can to reduce your chances of getting an infection. Consider dietary and lifestyle measures among other steps.
  • Sudden temperature changes. Avoid exposure to sudden and extreme changes in temperature.
  • A dehydrated body. Take adequate fluids to keep your body well-hydrated.
  • Avoid going to high altitudes. The relative low oxygen concentration in such an environment is bad for you.
  • Stressful situations. Persistent stress can trigger a crisis – avoid it.
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Things you can do

To live successfully with sickle cell needs a positive mindset among other measures. These include:

  • Acceptance. Accept that there ae things you may want to do but you may not be able to all the time. Know your abilities and limitations.
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle
  • Identify serious signs and symptoms and seek professional help as soon as possible
  • Know how to manage common signs and symptoms such as pain at home.
  • You may join a support group to help you cope with stress. If depression occurs, seek professional help.

It is possible to live a near-normal and productive life even with sickle cell disease.

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