Sickle Cell Disease in Children

The SLUCare Physician Group specialists in the hematology-oncology division at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital provide expert diagnosis, treatment and long-term support for children with all types of sickle cell disease. Our goal is to respond to your child’s periodic episodes of pain, while offering preventative treatment to help them manage their condition and live a full life.

Diagnosing Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle cell disease is an inherited condition where red blood cells can become rigid, sticky and often shaped like a crescent moon, or sickle. Normal red blood cells are round and flexible, like the letter O, and can move easily through blood vessels. When sickle cells cluster together, they block the flow of healthy, oxygen-carrying blood, which can lead to extreme pain, damage to a child’s body tissues and organs, and severe anemia.

In the US, sickle cell anemia affects about 100,000 people and one out of every 365 births among African Americans. It primarily affects children of African descent, Hispanics of Caribbean ancestry and children of Middle-Eastern and Indian descent.

Early detection of sickle cell disease is key in preventing painful complications. Our sickle cell disease experts have the ability to diagnose the conditions in an unborn baby. We can also screen for the sickle cell trait in newborns, in addition to examining your family history and blood tests to confirm a diagnosis. While the disorder is usually diagnosed in a child’s infancy, seek emergency medical care if your child experiences common symptoms of the disease, including:

  • Episodes of pain
  • Painful swelling of hands and feet
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Fever
  • Yellow tint in the skin or whites of the eyes
  • Pale skin or nail beds
  • Signs or symptoms of stroke
    • One-sided paralysis or weakness in the face, arms or legs
    • Confusion
    • Trouble walking or talking
    • Sudden vision problems or unexplained numbness
    • Headache

If your child is experiencing any of the above, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.

Treating Your Child’s Sickle Cell Disease

With a focus on quality of life, we treat various types of sickle cell diseases, including:

  • Sickle cell anemia (HbSS)
  • Sickle cell with hemoglobin C disease (HbSC)
  • Hemoglobin S-beta-thalassemia
  • Other, less common compound forms, including HbSD, HbSO and HbSE

Working closely with you and your child, we provide a full spectrum of care at every age, all while helping you navigate treatment. Your child’s treatment options may include:

  • Use of penicillin to reduce infections
  • Completion of sickle cell-specific vaccinations
  • Monitoring for fevers and possible bacterial infections
  • Hydroxyurea medication
  • Blood transfusions to treat severe anemia and reduce the chances of stroke
  • Iron chelation to prevent iron toxicity-related to chronic or recurrent blood transfusions
  • Stem cell transplantation

If your child is suffering from sickle cell disease, we are here to provide specialized care. Sickle cell disease doesn’t just affect the blood, but can potentially threaten nearly every major organ in the body, including the kidneys, lungs and brain. We coordinate your child’s care, working with specialty physicians as needed. Our multidisciplinary approach to monitoring your child’s health reduces the impact of the disease and helps us respond to acute situations.

Designated Sickle Cell Center

New treatments for sickle cell disease are improving life expectancy and quality of life. As a designated sickle cell center in both Missouri and Illinois, Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital has access to some of the most advanced treatments available. Your child will benefit from innovative research and a continued focus on improving the health of those with this disease.

With the right care, children with sickle cell disease can grow to be healthy adults. To learn more about our services, or to schedule an appointment with our team, please contact The Costas Center at 314-268-4000.

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