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Dr. Allison King on Sickle Cell Disease and Learning

Excerpts from our conversation with Dr. Allison King, an NIH-funded sickle cell specialist at Washington University in St. Louis.

NIHNiH: People with sickle cell disease – even children – have a higher than normal risk of stroke. What other challenges can sickle cell disease pose to the developing brain?

King: Both overt and silent strokes can harm the brain. But we’ve also realized that there are some children who haven’t had a stroke who also have a lot of trouble in school. Now we know that things like lower oxygen levels in the blood can also be associated with cognitive challenges. It’s also very stressful on the central nervous system to be chronically anemic. Plus, the inflammation from the disease can be a challenge to the brain as well.