What is Sickle Cell Disorder?

Physical health: Sickle Cell Disorder (SCD) is an inherited blood disorder caused by a defective protein in red blood cells which makes them irregularly (sickle) shaped and inflexible. The abnormal shape and inflexibility of the cells causes blockages in the circulatory system, which result in painful episodes called Sickle Cell crises. Other symptoms include anaemia and an increased risk of serious infections and strokes. SCD can also cause damage to vital organs and, if not treated properly, it can be fatal.


Mental health: Whilst there are a number of physical symptoms associated with SCD, we also appreciate that mental health is equally important in managing the disorder day to day.


See our mental health page for more information.


Who Can be Affected?

SCD mainly affects people of African, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, Eastern Mediterranean and Asian origin. In the UK, it's particularly common in people with an African or Caribbean family background. However, anyone can be a carrier of the trait and as SCD is an inherited disorder it can be passed down to people of any ethnicity.

Sickle Cell Trait

When both parents are carriers of SCD there is a one in four (or 25%) chance of their child not being affected by the disorder, a one in four (25%) chance of their child inheriting the disorder and a two in four (50%) chance of their child inheriting only one unusual haemoglobin gene and being a Sickle Cell carrier.


A Sickle Cell carrier is a person who carries one of the faulty genes which can cause Sickle Cell, this is sometimes referred to as having the Sickle Cell ‘trait’. Carriers of the Sickle Cell trait do not have the condition itself or display any of the symptoms of the condition, but they are at risk of having a child with Sickle Cell if their partner is also a carrier. Tests for Sickle Cell trait can be carried out at your local GP surgery or your nearest Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia centre.


Diagnosing Sickle Cell

Screening for Sickle Cell in pregnancy can be offered to all expectant mothers in England to identify whether there is a risk of giving birth to a child with the condition. All new born babies are also offered screening as part of the newborn blood spot test (the heel prick test). This means that most people with Sickle Cell can be diagnosed at birth. However, there are still many people who are not diagnosed with Sickle Cell until much later. Free blood tests can be carried out at any age to check for the condition, or to see if you're a carrier. If you are experiencing symptoms which you believe may be indicative of Sickle Cell, speak to your GP and ask to be tested.


It is also possible to test for the Sickle Cell trait. You can be tested at your local GP at any time.