Common Myths and Misconceptions

Common Myths and Misconceptions


1. Only Black people suffer from Sickle Cell Disease.

False.
Sickle Cell Disease does not discriminate based on ethnicity or skin colour. It occurs more often among people from regions of the world where malaria is common. Millions of people from around the world are affected by this disease, especially those whose ancestors descended from sub-Saharan Africa, Saudi Arabia, India, the Mediterranean (Greece, Sicily and Turkey), and Latin countries in South and Central American. (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016)

2. Sickle Cell Disease is a contagious blood-borne disease like HIV and Hepatitis B.

False.
Sickle Cell Disease is genetic condition present at birth. It is inherited when an offspring receives the sickle cell trait from both biological parents. Therefore, a child can only have Sickle Cell Disease when both of his/her parents have the abnormal hemoglobin gene. A person cannot become “infected” by the blood of someone who has Sickle Cell Disease, or who carries the sickle cell trait. SCD is not contagious.

3. All red blood cells have the same properties.

False.
Sickle hemoglobin is not like normal hemoglobin. Most red blood cells are round in shape (like a disc) so they can flex through blood vessels of all sizes to deliver oxygen. However, in sickle hemoglobin, the red blood cells become hard and sticky and look like a C-shaped farm tool called a “sickle.” The sickle cells have difficulty transporting oxygen due to their sickle shape; they often get stuck and clog the blood flow in tiny vessels. This can cause pain and other serious problems. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015)

4. People with the Sickle Cell Disease are immune to malaria.

False.
While scientists believe that Sickle Cell Disease is an evolutionary response to malaria, people with Sickle Cell Disease do not have the benefit of this evolutionary mutation. Many doctors have been known to tell patients with Sickle Cell Disease that they are immune to malaria and do not require anti-malarial protection. This is not true and puts patients at a greater risk. However, there is some evidence to suggest that people who carry the sickle cell trait, but did not inherit the gene from both parents, are less likely to have severe forms of malaria and may have higher childhood survival rates. (Konotey-Ahulu, [n.d.])

5. Sickle Cell Disease is very painful and can cause severe pain crises in patients.

True.
Common activities and normal circumstances can bring on sudden, severe pain crises in people with Sickle Cell Disease. Any activity that decreases the amount of oxygen in a person’s body can abruptly change red blood cells from round-shape to sickle-shape, thereby increasing likelihood the sickle cells getting stuck in tiny blood vessels and clogging the blood flow.

The intensity of the pain varies from person to person and can last for a few hours, up to a few weeks. Some people may only have a few pain episodes in their lifetime, while others will have a dozen or more crises a year. (Mayo Clinic, 2017)

Typical circumstances that might bring on a severe pain crisis in a person with Sickle Cell Disease are fever, vomiting or diarrhea causing dehydration, fatigue, stress, extremely cold weather, profuse sweating in hot weather, and pregnancy. Common activities that have also been known to cause a pain crisis are swimming underwater, flying at a high altitude, squatting down, heavy or excessive exercise, and prolonged labour during child birth. (Konotey-Ahulu, [n.d.]) Any of these circumstances may require someone with Sickle Cell Disease to seek immediate medical attention at a hospital.

6.Sickle Cell Disease is a life-long illness.

True.
The presence of Sickle Cell disease is known at birth. It is a life-long illness that can be managed with treatment. The disease affects all people differently and the severity differs from person to person. Early diagnosis, regular medical care by a qualified doctor and awareness of pain triggers all contribute to improved quality of life for patients with Sickle Cell Disease.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015, September 2). Diseases and Conditions: New Resources in Sickle Cell Trait Toolkit. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/sicklecell/documents/factsheet_sickle_cell_trait.pdf
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, August 31). Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) Homepage: Data & Statistics. Retrieved from Centre for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/sicklecell/data.html
Konotey-Ahulu, D. F. ([n.d.]). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from sicklecell.md: http://www.konotey-ahulu.com/faq.asp
Mayo Clinic. (2017). Patient Care and Health Information; Diseases and Conditions; Sickle Cell Anemia; Symptoms and Causes. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sickle-cell-anemia/symptoms-causes/dxc-20303269

 

Did you know?

The only known cure for Sickle Cell Disease is a stem cell transplant (or bone marrow transplant). Due to the significant risks involved in this procedure, including life-threatening complications, it is rarely an option for sickle cell patients.