Common Myths About Sickle Cell Disease Demystified
Sickle cell disease is a group of disorders that cause red cells to become abnormally shaped and get easily destroyed. As a result, the cells in these people have a shorter lifespan and they often suffer varying manifestations of the disease from aches and pains to organ failures, if not properly managed.
It is a disease that is well known, especially in Africa, however, there are still some popularly held misconceptions we may need to unlearn.
- People with sickle cell disease are immune to malaria: This is perhaps the commonest misconception I have come across. However, it is untrue. While some people who haven't acquired the sickle cell trait from both parents may be less likely to suffer very severe forms of malaria and scientists believe that sickle cell disease is an evolutionary response to malaria, people with the disease do not enjoy such protection.
- Sickle cell disease is contagious and can be transmitted from one person to another: Sickle cell disease is a genetic disease and as such a person can only suffer this disease if the person has acquired the sickle cell trait from both parents. It is not communicable as everyone has acquired their own haemoglobin genes from their parents before birth.
- If a person with sickle cell disease has children, all their children will suffer the disease too: The disease occurs only when a person has gotten the gene from both parents. If a person with sickle cell disease has children with a person with no abnormal hemoglobin genes, the child would only have the sickle cell trait and would not suffer the disease.
- Sickle cell disease is a death sentence: While people with sickle cell disease have a shorter life expectancy than the general population, with proper management and lifestyle adaptations, they can lead relatively normal and long lives.
- Sickle only occurs among black people: While sickle cell disease is very common among blacks, it is also seen among people of other races and ethnicities. It occurs among people from malaria-endemic places.