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Sickle cell diseases (SCD)

What are sickle cell diseases (SCD)?

If you have a sickle cell disease (SCD), your blood is unable to carry oxygen around your body effectively.

This is because your red blood cells are an abnormal shape (sickle or crescent-shaped) instead of disc-shaped. This will often leave you feeling tired, short of breath and prone to infections.

Sickle cell diseases are genetic. Both your parents need to have the sickle cell gene for you to be diagnosed with SCD. If one parent has the gene, you will be a carrier (also known as having the ‘sickle cell trait’) but you won’t have any symptoms. SCD are more common in people from African and Caribbean backgrounds.

You can find out more about SCD, including symptoms, diagnosis and treatments, on the Sickle Cell Society and NHS websites.

Facts about SCD

  • Around 270 people a year are born with SCD in the UK.
  • Routine screenings for SCD are offered if you are pregnant.
  • There were 94 stem cell transplants in the UK to treat SCD in 2020.

Sickle cell disease and stem cell transplants

A stem cell transplant would only be considered if other treatments have not been successful.

In the UK it is relatively rare for adults with sickle cell disease to be considered for stem cell transplant. It would usually only be considered if you have severe sickle cell disease and if it's possible for you to have a sibling transplant (where your new stem cells are donated by your brother or sister).

Children with sickle cell disease are considered for stem cell transplant more often than adults in the UK. This would most likely be a sibling transplant but it could also be a haploidentical transplant (where stem cells are donated by one of your parents) or an allogeneic transplant (where your new stem cells are donated by an unrelated donor).

Approaches to treatment for sickle cell disease vary across the four UK nations, so we recommend you discuss your treatment options with your healthcare team.

Information published: 16/02/22
Next review due: 16/02/23

Related links

Preparing for a stem cell transplant

Having a stem cell transplant

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