What is Sickle Cell Disease?
Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder that causes healthy red blood cells to become sickle or crescent-shaped. These cells reduce blood flow throughout the body causing pain and life-threatening health conditions. Sickle cell primarily affects African Americans and people of African ancestry.
The Sickle Cell Disease Association of America, states about 1 in 13 African Americans carry the sickle cell trait and many do not know they have it. In the United States an estimated 90,000-100,000 U.S. citizens, mostly African Americans are affected by sickle cell disease.
People who suffer from sickle cell often require regular blood transfusions to live. When blood flow is blocked by sickle cells it leads to many health complications including anemia, extreme pain, kidney disease, stroke, and blood clots all of these can be life-threatening.
Many sickle cell patients receive blood transfusions on a regular basis. Sickle cell patients can require six to ten units of blood each month.
Doctors are turning to blood exchanges more often to treat sickle cell patients. The monthly procedure helps prevent sickle cell complications from occurring, which means less time in the emergency room and allows for a better quality of life.
More African American Blood Donors Needed to Specifically Help Sickle Cell Patients
There is a need for more African Americans to donate blood to specifically help sickle cell patients. That’s because African Americans, and people of African ancestry, will likely be the perfect blood match for other African Americans with sickle cell disease.
Unfortunately, not enough African Americans donate blood, and the imbalance is significant. According to the latest data, only about 5% of the donor population is African American, compared to Caucasians who comprise more than 72% of the donor population.
Why Do African Americans with Sickle Cell Disease Need Blood from African Americans?
It all comes down to genetics. Many sickle cell patients require regular blood transfusions throughout their life. Because they are transfused so often, they have the potential of developing antibodies to the transfused blood.
To avoid the production of antibodies, and to avoid the potential of the patient’s body rejecting the transfusion, it is best that these patients receive blood from ethnically matched donors.
So why is that? It all has to do with antigens. In addition to being born with one of eight blood types, you also have antigens on your red blood cells. There are actually 350 known antigens. Our genetics determine the antigens we have and the antigens we lack.
When it comes to blood transfusions, patients receiving regular blood transfusions MUST receive blood that not only matches their blood type but also matches their antigen profile.
By doing this, it will decrease the chance of the patient developing antibodies to the transfused blood.