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World Sickle Cell Day: Awareness and Treatment Urgency Highlighted

World Sickle Cell Day

World Sickle Cell Day, observed annually on June 19th, aims to raise global awareness about sickle cell disease, a genetic blood disorder affecting millions worldwide. It serves as a reminder of the challenges faced by those with the disease and the urgent need for improved healthcare access, treatment, and support.

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Dr. Rahul Bhargava, Principal Director & Chief BMT at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram, explains that sickle cell conditions stem from an inherited gene mutation affecting red blood cells. Despite both sickle cell trait (SCT) and sickle cell disease (SCD) involving this gene, they differ significantly in symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

SCD brings a distinct set of hardships. Its hallmark is abnormal, crescent-shaped red blood cells that obstruct blood flow, triggering agonizing pain episodes known as crises. Fatigue, infections, breathlessness, and stunted growth in children are also common.

In contrast, SCT typically manifests no symptoms, with most individuals leading healthy lives. Occasionally, mild pain or blood in the urine may occur during extreme exertion, dehydration, or at high altitudes.

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Early detection of both SCT and SCD is facilitated through a simple blood test, often included in newborn screenings in many countries.

While Bone Marrow Transplant offers a cure for SCD, current treatments focus on symptom management and complication prevention. These may include pain relief during crises, folic acid supplements to support healthy red blood cell production, antibiotics to fend off infections, blood transfusions in severe cases, and hydroxyurea to reduce crisis frequency.

SCT, lacking symptoms, does not require specific treatment. However, maintaining hydration and avoiding strenuous activity at high altitudes can be beneficial precautions.

The critical distinction lies in the impact: SCD is a serious, lifelong illness necessitating ongoing care, while SCT generally poses no health threats but warrants awareness due to its genetic implications for family planning.

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