How to Prevent Sickle Cell Anemia
Sickle cell anemia is a condition where you do not have enough healthy red blood cells to provide adequate oxygen in your body. This form of anemia is inherited and present at birth.There is no cure for this condition but you can reduce your symptoms and prevent long-term complications due to sickle cell anemia. If you are pregnant, you and your partner should consider getting tested for the sickle cell trait. Sickle cell anemia can also be prevented by maintaining healthy habits and a healthy diet as well as avoiding changes in altitude, temperature, and stress level.
Getting Tested For the Sickle Cell Trait
Arrange for a blood test.Sickle cell anemia can be passed on by birth if one parent or both parents have the sickle cell gene. If you inherit the sickle cell gene from one or both of your parents, you will carry the sickle cell trait (SCT). You may not develop any of the symptoms of sickle cell disease, but you can pass the trait on to your children. Your doctor can perform a blood test to determine if you carry the sickle cell gene.
- If you are aware there is a sickle cell trait in your family or your partner’s family and you are pregnant, you and your partner should get tested for the sickle cell trait. This will help to determine if your unborn child is at risk of the condition.
- There is a 1 in 2 chance that your child will have the sickle cell trait if both you and your partner have the trait. However, there is a 1 in 4 chance your child will develop sickle cell anemia if both you and your partner have the trait.
Get tested if you are of African or Indian descent.The sickle cell gene is more common in individuals from Africa and India as well as Mediterranean countries, the Caribbean islands, Saudi Arabia, and South and Central America.
- In the United States, the gene is more common in individuals of African American descent.
Speak to a genetic counselor.If you find out you carry the sickle cell trait, you may talk to a genetic counselor while you are pregnant or before you try to get pregnant. A genetics counselor can explain the risks of having a child with sickle cell anemia as well as treatment options and preventative measures you can take.
- You can get a referral for a genetic counselor through your primary care doctor or your OB-GYN, if you are pregnant.
Have your unborn baby tested for sickle cell anemia.If you or your partner carry the sickle cell trait and you are pregnant, you may ask your doctor to test your unborn baby for the disease. Your doctor can test your unborn baby by using a fetal blood draw. This test will tell you if your child will be born with sickle cell disease.
- If your unborn baby is diagnosed with sickle cell disease, you may discuss terminating the pregnancy with your partner. This is a personal choice and should be done with care.
- Early diagnosis of the disease is important, as it allows the parents to learn more about the disease and be prepared for treatment of the disease once the baby is born. Proper treatment of the disease, especially in the early stages of life, can improve the baby’s chances of survival during childhood.
Maintaining Healthy Habits and a Healthy Diet
Do not smoke or drink alcohol.Smoking tobacco and consuming high amounts of alcohol can aggravate your sickle cell anemia or lead to the development of sickle cell anemia if you carry the sickle cell trait. As a precaution, you should try to avoid smoking tobacco or consuming alcohol.
- You should try to drink at least eight 12-ounce glasses of water a day, especially during warm weather. Staying hydrated will help to prevent oxygen loss and reduce your risk of dehydration, especially if you already have sickle cell anemia.
Maintain a healthy diet.You should have a diet that includes a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. You should also eat a lot of whole grains to ensure you are getting vitamins and nutrients from your food.
- Your doctor may recommend that you also take a folic acid supplement, as your bone marrow needs folic acid and other vitamins to produce new red blood cells. Always follow your doctor's instructions on dosage for supplements.
Get enough sleep every night.You should try to get sufficient rest, with at least eight hours of sleep a night. You may try creating a sleep schedule, where you go to sleep at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. You may also try making your bedroom cool, quiet, and cozy so you are able to get a good night’s sleep.
- If you think you have a sleep problem, such as snoring or sleep apnea, where you stop breathing when you sleep, you should tell your doctor. Your doctor may be able to help you treat the sleep issue so you are able to get the proper amount of rest.
Go for low-impact exercises.Individuals with the sickle cell trait or sickle cell anemia should avoid high-impact exercises, such as running, jogging, or swimming. These exercises can cause the oxygen in the body to circulate at a high rate. Instead, go for low-impact exercises like light weight lifting and strength building exercises. This will allow you to maintain your strength without overexerting your body.
- Your doctor may be able to suggest an exercise program for you that can help to prevent sickle cell anemia or prevent your condition from getting worse.
Schedule regular physical exams every three to six months.You should make sure your doctor is regulating your health to ensure you do not develop sickle cell anemia. Try to have a physical examination every three to six months. This will ensure your doctor can identify the symptoms of sickle cell anemia early or monitor you if you are at risk of the disease.
- Your doctor should do careful eye examinations during your check ups, as individuals with sickle cell anemia or the sickle cell trait are at risk of eye issues.
Avoiding Changes in Altitude, Temperature and Stress Level
Try not to fly.As a precaution, you may avoid experiencing high altitudes by opting for ground travel instead of air travel. You may take a train or a car instead of a plane so you do not go through any changes in altitude. Individuals with sickle cell anemia are at a high risk of crisis if they experience high altitudes.
- If you must fly, ask the airline to provide oxygen for you so you can breathe properly despite the altitude change. You may also opt for commercial airplanes rather than unpressurized aircraft.
Stay warm in cold areas.Individuals with sickle cell anemia or the sickle cell trait may be at risk of they do not stay warm in cold areas, such as a cold room. Put on warm clothes when you are going outside in cold weather and when you are sitting in air-conditioned rooms.
- You should also avoid swimming in cold water or very hot water, as extreme temperatures can increase your risk of sickle cell crisis.
Maintain a low-stress lifestyle.Stress, anxiety, and high emotion can aggravate your sickle cell anemia or encourage the development of health issues like sickle cell anemia. You should try to manage your stress levels so you are able to feel positive, calm, and relaxed on a daily basis.
- You may try doing stress reducing activities like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises.
- If you are struggling with stress at work or at school, you should talk to your doctor. You may referred to a therapist who can help you talk through your anxiety and stress.
Video: Facebook Live: Gene Therapy for Sickle Cell Disease
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