Sickle-cell disease (SCD) is a group of genetically passed down blood disorders. The most common type is known as sickle-cell anaemia (SCA). It results in an abnormality in the oxygen-carrying protein haemoglobin found in red blood cells. This leads to a rigid, sickle-like shape under certain circumstances. Problems in sickle cell disease typically begin around 5 to 6 months of age. A number of health problems may develop, such as attacks of pain (“sickle-cell crisis”), anemia, bacterial infections, and stroke. Long term pain may develop as people get older. The average life expectancy in the developed world is 40 to 60 years. Sickle-cell disease occurs when a person inherits two abnormal copies of the haemoglobin gene, one from each parent. Several subtypes exist, depending on the exact mutation in each haemoglobin gene. An attack can be set off by temperature changes, stress, dehydration, and high altitude.
A person with a single abnormal copy does not usually have symptoms and is said to have sickle-cell trait. Such people are also referred to as carriers. Diagnosis is by a blood test and some countries test all babies at birth for the disease. Diagnosis is also possible during pregnancy. The care of people with sickle-cell disease may include infection prevention with vaccination and antibiotics, high fluid intake, folic acid supplementation, and pain medication. Other measures may include blood transfusion, and the medication hydroxycarbamide (hydroxyurea). A small proportion of people can be cured by a transplant of bone marrow cells. As of 2013 about 3.2 million people have sickle-cell disease while an additional 43 million have sickle-cell trait. About 80% of sickle-cell disease cases are believed to occur in sub-Saharan Africa. It also occurs relatively frequently in parts of India, the Arabian peninsula, and among people of African origin living in other parts of the world. In 2013, it resulted in 176,000 deaths, up from 113,000 deaths in 1990. The condition was first described in the medical literature by the American physician James B. Herrick in 1910. In 1949 the genetic transmission was determined by E. A. Beet and J. V. Neel. In 1954 the protective effect against malaria of sickle-cell trait was described.
Bone marrow transplants have proven effective in children. Bone marrow transplants are the only known cure for SCD. However, bone marrow transplants are difficult to obtain because of the specific HLA typing necessary. Ideally, a close relative (allogeneic) would donate the bone marrow necessary for transplantation.