30 April 2019

WATCH: New findings shed light on sickle cell disease

Sickle cell disease is an umbrella term for a group of blood disorders that affect the red blood cells.

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a common name for several inherited disorders that affect red blood cells. SCD affects about 80 000 people in the United States, making it the most common blood disorder in the country.

Red blood cells affected by SCD have a unique crescent shape and are unable to supply enough oxygen vital to sustain the entire body. 

New research published in the American Journal of Hematology studied the effects of the reduced oxygen to the brain as a result of SCD. This research focused particularly on the presence of silent strokes in those with SCD. Silent strokes occur when there is an interruption of blood supply to the brain in areas that are not vital. But even though this doesn't sound serious, it can affect brain function when accumulated over a prolonged period. 

The research made use of imagery called arterial spin labeling. It found that limited oxygen to the white matter areas of the brain was reduced by 35% in those with SCD.

The results of the research show that the body prioritises blood flow to the so-called grey matter areas of the brain. 

Whenever blood supply is interrupted in the so-called grey matter areas of the brain, it causes immediate permanent damage, while interrupted blood supply to white areas causes delayed processing of information, which is not quote as severe as the former. 

While there is no cure for SCD, the research helps in understanding how silent strokes brought on by SCD can affect the body in the long term.

Image credit: iStock