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Sickle Cell Anemia Treatment

Also called: hemoglobin SS disease, HbSS disease, homozygous sickle cell disease

Sickle cell anemia is a type of sickle cell disease. It is also known as hemoglobin SS disease or HbSS. Like other types of sickle cell disease, sickle cell anemia is inherited (passed down in families).

Sickle cell anemia symptoms

Sickle cell disease is a group of blood disorders that affects hemoglobin in red blood cells. Normal red blood cells are round and flexible. They flow easily through the body’s blood vessels. People with sickle cell disease, including sickle cell anemia, have red blood cells that are hard, sticky, and shaped like a banana (sickle-shaped). Learn more about sickle cell disease on Together by St. Jude™.

Sickle cells die faster than normal red blood cells. In healthy people, blood cells live around 120 days. People with sickle cell anemia have blood cells that live only 10 to 20 days. The sickle cells die faster than they can be replaced. This can lead to severe anemia, or a lack of healthy red blood cells. Fewer red blood cells are available to deliver oxygen to the body.
Signs and symptoms of sickle cell anemia include:

  • Low numbers of red blood cells (anemia)
  • Sudden episodes of pain (pain crises)
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Blood clots
  • Dark colored urine
  • Swelling in hands and feet
  • Chest pain
  • Repeated infections
  • High numbers of white blood cells
  • Bone infections

Sickle cell anemia causes

Sickle cell anemia (hemoglobin SS disease) is caused by a gene change (mutation) that affects hemoglobin. Each child has 2 hemoglobin genes — 1 from their mother and 1 from their father. Sickle cell anemia occurs when a child inherits the hemoglobin S gene from both parents.

Sickle cell anemia diagnosis

A simple blood test can diagnose sickle cell anemia. This test is usually done in the hospital within 1 to 2 days of birth.

  • Every infant in the United States is screened for sickle cell anemia by collecting blood from a heel or finger.
  • Doctors can also screen for sickle cell disease before a baby is born by testing a sample of the fluid that surrounds the unborn child. This test can occur as early as the first 3 months of pregnancy.
  • If the test results are negative, no sickle cell gene is present.
  • If the results are positive, further tests may be done to find out the exact type of sickle cell disease the child has.

Sickle cell anemia treatment

Sickle cell anemia is treated similarly to other types of sickle cell disease. Patients with sickle cell anemia need lifelong medical care. Common treatments include:

Researchers are also studying how new gene therapies may be used to treat sickle cell disease.

Sickle cell anemia clinical trials

St. Jude offers clinical trials and research studies for children, teens, and young adults with blood disorders. Learn more about clinical research at St. Jude.

SCCRIP: Sickle Cell Research and Intervention Program

Study goal:

The purpose of this research study is to collect data on sickle cell disease participants from birth to end of life. With these data, researchers will better understand problems caused by sickle cell disease both in children and in adults. 

NCBP01: Safety Study of Unlicensed, Investigational Cord Blood Units Manufactured by the NCBP for Unrelated Transplantation

Study goal:

The primary purpose of this study is to examine the safety of administration of the unlicensed investigational NCBP HPC-CORD BLOOD products in a multi-institution setting.

Sickle cell anemia care at St. Jude

  • St. Jude has always had a deep commitment to children with sickle cell disease. Scientists at St. Jude have studied sickle cell disease since the hospital first opened in 1962. The first research grant received by the hospital was for the study of sickle cell disease.
  • In 1983, a St. Jude patient was the first in the world to be cured of sickle cell disease through a bone marrow transplant. Although a transplant is a cure, it is not an easy cure, and it can have complications. St. Jude continues to research alternate approaches to cure children with sickle cell disease.
  • St. Jude scientists and doctors work together to learn more about sickle cell disease. They hope to develop new and better treatments.
  • St. Jude also develops collaborative research partnerships with the NIH and other institutions throughout the world.
  • The Sickle Cell Clinical Research and Intervention Program studies the long-term effects of sickle cell disease and its treatments. Results from the study will help scientists design new and better sickle cell disease treatments.
  • Our multi-disciplinary team includes physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurse case managers, clinic nurses, social workers, academic coordinators, child life specialists, pharmacists, psychologists, genetic counselors, and other specialists.
  • St. Jude has a large outpatient clinic setting with a dedicated area for children with sickle cell disease. Sickle cell clinics at St. Jude are divided into age-based clinics: Infant/Toddler; School-Age; Teen Clinic; and a collaborative Transition Clinic at the adult comprehensive sickle cell center.
A statue of children running and holding hands

Seeking treatment at St. Jude

Patients accepted to St. Jude must have a disease we treat and must be referred by a physician or other qualified medical professional. We accept most patients based on their ability to enroll in an open clinical trial.

How to seek treatment

Contact the Physician / Patient Referral Office

Call: 1-888-226-4343 (toll-free) or 901-595-4055 (local)  | Fax: 901-595-4011 | Email: | 24-hour pager: 1-800-349-4334


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