Sickle Cell Anemia: Preventing the Inevitable

Sickle Cell Anemia: Preventing the InevitableWhen blood cells dry out (dehydrate), the density of hemoglobin S within the cell increases, thereby speeding the sickling process. The higher the concentration of sickle hemoglobin and the more acidic the environment, the faster the sickle cell process.

Sickle cells  have a shorter life span (10 - 20 days) than the normal red blood cells (90 - 120 days). Every day the body produces new red blood cells to replace old ones, but sickle cells become destroyed so fast that the body cannot keep up. The red blood cell count drops, which results in anemia. This gives sickle cell disease its more common name, sickle cell anemia.


Because of their shape, sickled red blood cells can't squeeze through small blood vessels as easily as the almost donut-shaped normal cells. This can lead to these small blood vessels getting blocked which then stops the oxygen from getting through to where it is needed. This in turn can lead to severe pain and damage to organs.



People with sickle cell disorder need regular medical attention particularly before and after operations, dental extraction and during pregnancy. Many hospitals arrange follow-up appointments and it is advisable to discuss with the doctors questions concerning schooling, strenuous exercise, family planning, suitable types of employment and air travel. When a person is found to have a sickle cell disorder it is important that all members of the family be tested. They will not necessarily have sickle cell disorder but may be healthy carriers of a sickle cell trait.

There are a number of precautions you can take to prevent or reduce the severity of long-term complications, caused by sickle cell anemia

  • Sickle Cell Anemia: Preventing the InevitableHave regular physical examinations every 3 - 6 months.

  • Have periodic and careful eye examinations.

  • Have sufficient rest, warmth, and increased fluid intake. (These are critical precautions for reducing oxygen loss and the risk for dehydration.)

  • Avoid conditions, such as crowds, that increase risk for infections.

  • Eat a healthy diet high in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. Stay away from too much meat, sugar, salt, alcohol, and processed foods. 

  • Avoid excessive demands on the body that would increase oxygen needs (physical overexertion, stress). Low impact exercise (leg lifts, light weights) may be useful and safe for maintaining strength, particularly in the legs and hips, but patients should consult their doctor about any exercise program.

  • Avoid high altitudes if possible. If flying is necessary, be sure that the airline can provide oxygen.

  • Do not smoke, and avoid exposure to second-hand smoke. Both active and passive smoking may promote acute chest syndrome in patients with sickle cell disease.

  • Eat foods rich in folic acid, zinc, vitamin E, and cyanate.

Foods that help manage sickle-cell anemia.
Kidney Beans

Sickle Cell Disorder is a condition which is inherited from both parents. This means that people are born with it, just as they are born with other characteristics such as eye colour, hair texture and height.

For further information contact:

Sickle Cell Society
54 Station Road
London, NW10 4UA

Tel 020 8961 7795
Fax 020 8961 8346
[email protected]

Dated 21 December 2011


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