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Understanding Sickle Cell Anemia

Dr. Peter Gulick photo
WKAR File Photo
Dr. Peter Gulick of the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine

September is National Sickle Cell Anemia Awareness Month. Sickle cell refers to the shape of a patient’s red blood cells. As many as 100-thousand people have the blood disease in this country, most of them African-Americans.

WKAR health reporter Scott Pohl talks with Dr. Peter Gulick of the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine.

“With sickle cell anemia, patients are tired, fatigued, because of the anemia,” Dr. Gulick says. Cells deform because of a lack of oxygenation, he explains. Cells can become rigid, and patients can get severe lung conditions with chest pains.

Kidneys can malfunction, and there can also be bone disease.

Patients tend to hyperventilate, and that can lead to that low oxygenation. In turn, Dr. Gulick says that can lead for further sickling of the cells. “We try to prevent those conditions,” he explains, “and we try to make sure the patients are well hydrated, so the sludging (of the blood) doesn’t occur.”

In some cases, a bone marrow transplant is recommended.

Sickle cell anemia can be fatal, especially due to infectious complications like sepsis or pneumonia.

There is no cure.

Dr. Gulick concludes that patients with the genetic trait need to be educated that if they become involved with a partner showing the same trait, any children could be born with the full blown disease of sickle cell anemia.

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