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Sickle cell disease (SCD) has often been associated with African-Americans. It’s true that in the United States, more than 90 percent of people who live with SCD are of African-American descent. However, SCD isn’t exclusive to the Black population—it also affects people of Indian, Middle Eastern, Hispanic, and Mediterranean ethnicities.

With April being recognized as National Minority Health Awareness Month, Kaiser Permanente sheds light on what SCD is, and what it is not.

SCD is an inherited condition that occurs when red blood cells bend into a “sickle” shape. Whereas healthy red blood cells are round and can move freely through small blood vessels carrying oxygen to all parts of the body, sickle cells tend to get stuck, and block the blood flow and oxygen to the organs in the body. When this occurs, a person with SCD can suffer from severe pain, organ damage, infections, and possibly a stroke.

“It’s important to separate facts from fiction when it comes to sickle cell disease,” said Dr. Resa Caivano, a physician with The Kaiser Permanente Sickle Cell Center of Excellence located in Inglewood. “If we do that, then we can better understand and focus on effective treatment options, and debunk myths that often can misrepresent what this disease is all about, and whom it affects.”

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention considers SCD to be a rare disease, because it affects only about 100,000 people nationwide. As such, there are misconceptions that prevent people from receiving the care they may need.

According to Kaiser Permanente’s Sickle Cell Center of Excellence, common SCD myths include:

—SCD is a “Black” disease. No one else gets this strange disease.

—SCD is contagious, I don’t want to catch it.

—A person with the sickle cell trait automatically develops SCD.

—People with SCD are drug users, and abuse pain medication.

—There is nothing an SCD patient can do except take drugs daily, and suffer.

Most sickle cell patients stop comprehensive treatment once they become adults. Kaiser Permanente’s Sickle Cell Center of Excellence sees its members impacted by SCD well into adulthood, and helps them to manage sickle cell disease effectively.