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Sickle Cell Anemia

Sickle Cell Anemia

Genes are inherited in pairs, one copy from each parent. Therefore, each person has two copies of the gene that makes beta-globin. As long as a person inherits one normal beta-globin gene, the body can produce sufficient quantities of normal beta-globin. A person who inherits a copy each of the normal and abnormal beta-globin genes is referred to as a carrier of the sickle cell trait. Generally, carriers do not have symptoms, but their red blood cells contain some hemoglobin S.

A child who inherits the sickle cell trait from both parents—a 25% possibility if both parents are carriers—will develop sickle cell anemia. Sickle cell anemia is A scanning electron microscopy (SEM) scan of red blood cells taken from a person with sickle cell anemia. The blood cells at the bottom are normal; the diseased, sickle-shaped cell appears at the top. Micrograph comparing healthy red blood cells with a sickle cell, photograph by Dr. Gopal Murti. National Audubon Society Collection/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission. characterized by the formation of stiff and elongated red blood cells, called sickle cells. These cells have a decreased life span in comparison to normal red blood cells. Normal red blood cells survive for approximately 120 days in the bloodstream; sickle cells last only 10-12 days. As a result, the bloodstream is chronically short of red blood cells and the affected individual develops anemia.

The sickle cells can create other complications. Due to their shape, they do not fit well through small blood vessels. As an aggravating factor, the outside surfaces of sickle cells may have altered chemical properties that increase the cell's "stickiness." These sticky sickle cells are more likely to adhere to the inside surfaces of small blood vessels, as well as to other blood cells. As a result of the sickle cells' shape and stickiness, blockages occasionally form in small blood vessels. Such blockages prevent oxygenated blood from reaching areas where it is needed, causing extreme pain, as well as organ and tissue damage.

However, the severity of the symptoms cannot be predicted based solely on the genetic inheritance. Some individuals with sickle cell anemia develop health- or life-threatening problems in infancy, but others may have only mild symptoms throughout their lives. For example, genetic factors, such as the continued production of fetal hemoglobin after birth, can modify the course of the disease. Fetal hemoglobin contains gamma-globin in place of beta-globin; if enough of it is produced, the potential interactions between hemoglobin S molecules are reduced.


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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Semiotics to SmeltingSickle Cell Anemia - Hemoglobin Structure, Sickle Cell Hemoglobin, Sickle Cell Anemia, Affected Populations, Causes And Symptoms - Delayed growth, Acute chest syndrome, Treatment, Alternative treatment