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The University of Chicago Medicine - Comer Children's Hospital

Sickle Cell Disease

Learn about pediatric sickle cell anemia and how it's diagnosed and treated. John M. Cunningham, MD, talks about the range of therapies available, including novel approaches to stem cell transplant.

Experts at Comer Children's Hospital, in partnership with specialists from La Rabida Children's Hospital, provide comprehensive care for children with sickle cell disease and anemia. Sickle cell is an inherited disorder that affects a person's red blood cells. Children with sickle cell disease have an abnormal type of hemoglobin (the molecule in red blood cells that delivers oxygen to the body) that causes blood cells to become crescent-shaped. These misshapen cells have difficulty passing through the body's blood vessels, which reduces oxygen flow and results in tissue damage.

Symptoms

Sickle cell disease may cause anemia, jaundice and/or gallstones. Because sickle-shaped cells reduce the flow of blood through a person's blood vessels, patients experience tissue damage, episodes of pain and/or infection and, in severe cases, even stroke.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Testing for sickle cell disorder is part of mandatory newborn screenings in Illinois and across the United States. Physicians use a blood test to confirm or rule out the presence of the disease. Early diagnosis contributes to the success of ongoing management.

Treatment of sickle cell disease involves controlling symptoms and reducing any associated risks. Depending on the severity of your child's conditions, our physicians may recommend medications, blood transfusions and/or stem cell transplant. Medications used to manage sickle cell disease include: pain-relievers; antibiotics, to prevent and/or treat infections; and Hydroxyurea, which stimulates production of regular hemoglobin and may decrease painful episodes.

It's important for your child to have regular appointments with his/her physician to monitor blood count and any current symptoms. If your child has an acute attack, seek medical care immediately.

In addition to our inpatient and outpatient clinical care, we offer counseling to address concerns and stress that may accompany chronic illness.

Research

At Comer Children's, physician-scientists are working to develop new therapies that may prevent the development of sickle cell disease in the future as well as new protocols for current treatment options.