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Overcoming the Stigma of Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a group of genetic disorders that affect red blood cells, causing them to become shaped like crescents, or sickles. The sickle-shaped cells travel through the blood stream where they can get stuck and cut off blood flow, causing intense pain and organ damage.

Stigma occurs when a negative stereotype about a group is attributed to an individual. Health-related stigma refers to the rejection of people with certain health conditions, based on a negative stereotype. In the case of SCD, health-related stigma can be compounded by racism (actual or perceived) and can pose significant barriers to getting appropriate care. For example, the seeking of a specific medication for chronic or acute pain may be perceived as the behavior of a person affected by substance abuse. Or, people who are experiencing SCD-related pain may be falsely thought of as malingers (those who pretend to be sick to get out of their responsibilities).

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