SCD is genetic, mainly affecting African Americans. Medications can help manage symptoms. Fertility treatments can also help avoid passing the disease. But this may not be easily accessible to historically marginalized groups.

Sickle cell anemia (SCA), commonly sickle cell disease (SCD), refers to a group of genetic disorders that affect your body’s production of hemoglobin.

Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells (RBCs) that carries oxygen throughout your body. People with SCD produce an unusual form of hemoglobin called hemoglobin S.

While RBCs are usually round, hemoglobin S causes them to be C-shaped, making them look like a crescent or a sickle. This is where the disease gets its name.

This shape stiffens RBCs, preventing them from bending and flexing when moving through your blood vessels. As a result, the RBCs can get stuck and block blood flow through blood vessels. This can cause a lot of pain and tissue damage.

RBCs with hemoglobin S proteins have a much shorter lifespan than healthy RBCs. They are also less effective at delivering oxygen throughout the body. This means that if you have SCD, you have lower oxygen levels and fewer RBCs, which can lead to various health complications.

Sickle cell anemia is a genetic condition that people are born with, meaning there’s no way to “catch” it from someone else.

If you have SCD, this means that you inherited sickle cell genes — one from each biological parent. If you don’t have SCD, but other people in your family do, it is possible that you inherited the sickle cell gene. Inheriting one copy of the sickle cell gene is called having sickle cell trait (SCT).

Having SCT doesn’t cause any symptoms or health problems, and it will not cause you to develop SCD. However, it does increase the chances of your child being born with SCD.

If you and your partner have SCT, you have a 25% chance of having a child with SCD and a 50% chance of having a child with SCT in every pregnancy.

You can find out whether you carry the sickle cell gene through a simple blood test. A doctor will take a small amount of blood from a vein and analyze it in a laboratory. They’ll look for the presence of hemoglobin S.

If hemoglobin S is present, you have either SCD or SCT. To confirm which one you have, the doctor will follow up with another blood test called hemoglobin electrophoresis. This test separates and determines the different types of hemoglobin in your blood from a small sample.

If you have any family history of SCD and plan to have children, this simple test can help you better understand your chances of passing on the gene. The sickle cell gene is also more common in certain populations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the U.S., SCT is most common among Black people, affecting 1 in every 13 Black or African American babies. One in every 365 Black or African American newborns will inherit the gene from both parents and develop SCD.

SCT is also found more often in people with the following heritages:

  • sub-Saharan Africa
  • South America
  • Central America
  • Caribbean
  • Saudi Arabia
  • India
  • Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Greece, and Turkey

If you’re unsure about your family history but think you might fall into one of these groups, consider doing a blood test just to be sure.

If you and your partner are screened and found to carry the gene, a genetic counselor can help you understand your test results and give you more specific information about the chances of your biological child having either SCT or SCD.

If you live in the U.S. or Canada, the National Society of Genetic Counselors has a tool to help you find a genetic counselor in your area.

If not having biological children is the right choice, they can also walk you through other family-building options, such as adoption. These conversations can be difficult, but they can help you navigate your emotions and consider all of the options available to you.

If you still want to have your own baby, they can speak to you about in vitro fertilization (IVF), which can allow you to identify the embryos that have inherited SCD and only implant the healthy embryos.

Sickle cell anemia is an inherited condition that affects the health of your red blood cells. It does not develop over time, and you cannot contract it. Rather, it is something that you are born with.

People with SCD can experience much pain and be more vulnerable to infections and other potentially life threatening health conditions. However, with proper treatment, it is possible to manage your symptoms and prevent serious complications.

Consulting a genetic counselor can be helpful if you and your partner carry the gene and want to start a family. That said, IVF can be costly, even with medical insurance coverage, and not accessible to everyone.

In the U.S., private insurance companies are not required to cover fertility treatments. Meanwhile, SCD primarily affects African Americans, of whom 20.8% are learning less than 12,000$, according to research, compared to just 10.1% of people who are white. This means IVF may not be readily available to people of historically marginalized groups.

Can you control sickle cell anemia?

SCD is a lifelong condition. The only way to fully cure it is through a bone marrow transplant. Otherwise, it can be managed through a variety of treatments. Primarily, these treatments center around reducing the likelihood of infection and managing pain.

There are several medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that help to lower the chance of developing anemia and improve blood flow to the organs. Blood transfusions are also commonly used to treat certain complications with SCD. Talk with your doctor about a treatment plan that’s right for you.

Can folic acid prevent sickle cell anemia?

Folic acid does not prevent SCD. However, many people with SCD take folic acid supplements to help increase the number of healthy red blood cells in their system and to prevent anemia. However, there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that this works. If you have SCD, talk with your doctor to see if folic acid supplements suit you.

Learn more about folic acid for sickle cell disease.

What blood type carries sickle cell anemia?

There isn’t a specific blood type that is more likely to carry SCD. SCD is a genetic condition that is present at birth. It is inherited when a child receives two hemoglobin S genes from their parents.

How do I get a lab diagnosis of sickle cell anemia?

SCD and SCT are diagnosed with simple blood tests. In the United States, healthcare providers can test for SCD as early as 8-10 weeks into pregnancy through prenatal testing. Children can also be diagnosed at birth during routine newborn screenings, such as pinprick blood tests. Early screening will help ensure that you or your child receive the appropriate medical care.