CDC Grand Rounds

Improving the Lives of Persons with Sickle Cell Disease

Mary Hulihan, DrPH; Kathryn L. Hassell, MD; Jean L. Raphael, MD; Kim Smith-Whitley, MD; Phoebe Thorpe, MD


Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2017;66(46):1269-1271. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Approximately 100,000 Americans have sickle cell disease (SCD), a group of recessively inherited red blood cell disorders characterized by abnormal hemoglobin, called hemoglobin S or sickle hemoglobin, in the red blood cells. Persons with hemoglobin SS or hemoglobin Sß0 thalassemia, also known as sickle cell anemia (SCA), have the most severe form of SCD. Hemoglobin SC disease and hemoglobin Sß+ thalassemia are other common forms of SCD. Red blood cells that contain sickle hemoglobin are inflexible and can stick to vessel walls, causing a blockage that slows or stops blood flow. When this happens, oxygen cannot reach nearby tissues, leading to attacks of sudden, severe pain, called pain crises, which are the clinical hallmark of SCD. The red cell sickling and poor oxygen delivery can also cause damage to the brain, spleen, eyes, lungs, liver, and multiple other organs and organ systems. These chronic complications can lead to increased morbidity, early mortality, or both. Tremendous strides in treating and preventing the complications of SCD have extended life expectancy. Now, nearly 95% of persons born with SCD in the United States reach age 18 years;[1] however, adults with the most severe forms of SCD have a life span that is 20–30 years shorter than that of persons without SCD.[2]