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patient education

Sickle Cell Disease may Affect Brain Function

key information

source: National Institute of Health

year: 2010


Adults who have mild sickle cell disease scored lower than healthy participants on tests of brain function, suggesting that the blood disease may affect the brain more than previously realized. The new study is the first to examine cognitive functioning in adults with sickle cell disease.

Sickle cell disease affects about 70,000 Americans, mostly those of African descent. The condition arises from an altered gene that produces abnormal hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein that helps red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. The faulty hemoglobin can lead to distorted red blood cells, which become crescent-shaped, stiff and sticky. These sickle-shaped cells can clump together to block blood flow, causing severe pain and potential organ damage. Because they don’t last as long as normal, round red blood cells, the sickled cells can lead to anemia.

Only a few decades ago, many patients with sickle cell disease died during childhood. But with improved treatments, more patients are living into middle age. Health care providers are now uncovering previously unrecognized complications, including potential defects in thinking and brain function.

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