Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a group of inherited red blood cell disorders. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen. Healthy red blood cells are round, and they move through small blood vessels carrying oxygen to all parts of the body. In a person who has sickle cell disease, the hemoglobin is abnormal, the blood cells become hard and sticky and look like a C-shaped farm tool called a sickle. Sickle cells die quicker than normal red blood cells causing a constant shortage of red blood cells. The normal lifecycle of red blood cells is 120 days. Sickle cell red blood cells only live 16 days. When sickle cells travel through small blood vessels, they get stuck and clog the blood flow. Tissue that does not receive a normal blood supply eventually becomes damaged. There is currently no universal cure for SCD.
Most people associate sickle cell as being an African-American disease. SCD affects Hispanics, Asians, and Pacific islanders. As well as men and women equally. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates for every 100,000 American births:
1/365 are African Americans
1/16300 are Hispanics
1/25800 are Pacific Islanders
1/41600 are non-Hispanic
People who have SCD can sometimes have vision problems. Blood cells that change shape or “sickle” can get trapped in the tiny blood vessels, blocking the blood flow to the retina. Patients with SCD are prone to develop Vaso-occlusive crises in the conjunctiva, iris, or retina, leading to complications. Vaso-occlusive crises (VOC) occur when sickled red blood cells block blood flow to the point the tissues become deprived of oxygen. Causing an inflammatory response as the body tries to fix itself.