If you have a sickle cell disease (of which sickle cell anaemia is the most severe) 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 – so they can’t bind as much oxygen as a normal cell. This will often leave you feeling tired, short of breath and prone to infections.
Sickle cell diseases are genetic. To be affected, both your parents need to have the sickle cell gene. If you get the gene from one parent, you will be a carrier (also known as sickle cell trait), but you won’t have any symptoms. The diseases are more common in people of African and Mediterranean descent.
Sickle cell disease (SCD)
Red blood cells
Around 270 babies are born in the UK with SCD each year
99 in 2019 (for all types of anaemia)
Inherited from your parents
Blood transfusions and, rarely, stem cell transplants
Pregnant women are routinely offered screening to see if they are a carrier
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 allograft 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: 15/02/21
Next review due: 15/02/24