Each year, we care for more than 700 children with various forms of sickle cell disease – often with treatments and therapies our researchers developed. We help prevent complications from the disease, offer the most innovative treatments and provide pain management techniques to help kids feel better.
What is Pediatric Sickle Cell Disease?
Sickle cell disease is a genetic blood disorder that can lead to anemia, body pain and organ damage. This disease affects hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen through the body. Without getting the right amount of oxygen, your child’s tissues and organs could be damaged. Typically, red blood cells are round and smooth (they look like a dime) and move easily throughout the body. If your child has pediatric sickle cell disease, their red blood cells are firm, tacky and shaped like crescent moons. These cells don’t move easily throughout the body and can clump together. This can stop blood flow, leading to a condition called anemia, which can cause fatigue and pain or damage your child’s organs.
What are the signs and symptoms of Pediatric Sickle Cell Disease?
Most states, like Texas, check all babies for abnormal hemoglobin levels in a blood test shortly after birth. The blood test will show if your child has sickle cell disease. Most children start to develop complications from sickle cell disease before their first birthday. Early symptoms of sickle cell disease include:
- Severe pain in any part of the body
- Lung infection
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
Complications of Sickle Cell Disease
Sickle cell disease is a lifelong disease that can cause many complications as your child grows up. If left untreated, kids may experience:
- Increased infections
- Severe swelling of hands and feet
- Increased risk of stroke
- Shoulder and hip pain
- Open sores throughout the body
- Long-lasting, painful erections
- Enlarged spleen
How is Pediatric Sickle Cell Disease diagnosed?
Most kids are diagnosed after their newborn screening test. We can also diagnose sickle cell disease through a chest X-ray or blood test if we see symptoms later in life.
What causes Pediatric Sickle Cell Disease?
Sickle cell disease is caused by a mutation in your child’s genes, making blood cells turn into little crescents instead of a round shape. Children inherit this trait from their parents.
How is Pediatric Sickle Cell Disease treated?
Sickle cell disease can cause body aches and pains, anemia or damage to your child’s organs. No matter what complications they are experiencing, our doctors will come up with a treatment plan that works best for your child. For example:
- Non-addictive pain medications: If your child is having a lot of pain, we can prescribe safe medications.
- Blood transfusions: If your child is at risk of having a stroke, we can do blood transfusions. These transfusions increase the amount of oxygen in your child’s blood, which can decrease their stroke risk.
- Folic acid: If your child has severe anemia, we can give them folic acid, a vitamin that treats anemia.
Stem cell transplants for sickle cell disease
The only way to cure sickle cell disease is with a stem cell transplant. Stem cells are located in bone marrow, which is responsible for producing red blood cells. During a stem cell transplant, our doctors replace your child’s bone marrow with healthy bone marrow from a donor.
For this to be successful, the bone marrow has to be a close match to your child’s (typically from a close family member like a sibling). During the procedure, we use medicines to eliminate your child’s original bone marrow. Then, we inject donated marrow cells into a vein. Soon, the donor’s bone marrow replaces your child’s bone marrow, making healthy red blood cells and curing them of sickle cell disease.