Donating Blood Can Support Those Living with Sickle Cell
Last updated: February 2021
Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a group of inherited disorders that affect red blood cells. SCD causes red blood cells to harden and become sticky. Cells also become C-shaped, or shaped like a “sickle,” which is a tool used on farms. The sickle cells can both die early and get stuck in small blood vessels. This can cause pain, infection, stroke, or organ damage.1
How common is sickle cell?
It is estimated that about 100,000 Americans have SCD. Sickle cell disease can affect anyone, but it is more common in people of African descent. It is estimated that SCD affects 1 in every 365 Black babies born in the United States.1
Is there a treatment?
SCD does not have a widely used cure. In very serious cases, a patient might receive a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. However, this is a risky procedure and not often recommended. For other cases, there are options for managing SCD. One of the most effective treatments for SCD is blood transfusions.1-4
How blood transfusions help with SCD
Blood transfusions are the most common treatment for SCD. A blood transfusion helps people with sickle cell disease by introducing new healthy blood cells. These healthy cells help carry oxygen through the body and can unblock clogged blood vessels.5
In some cases, a blood transfusion can save the life of a person with SCD. It can help prevent a stroke or lower the risk for repeated strokes. Transfusions also help treat acute chest syndrome (ACS), which is the leading cause of death in SCD patients. Blood transfusions also relieve pain in SCD patients. Transfusions are especially important for young people because they can keep them in school and out of the hospital.4
The demand for blood donations for people with SCD is high. Some people need many transfusions – up to once a month – for many years.4
Who can donate blood
The requirements for donating blood are slightly different depending on your state. In most states, you must be at least 16 years old. You also must weigh at least 110 pounds. The American Red Cross provides detailed information about blood donation eligibility requirements. You can still donate even if you have sickle cell trait.3,6
Anyone who donates blood has a chance to help people with sickle cell disease. However, because people with SCD receive many transfusions, the blood must be a close match to prevent rejection. Genetics are important in finding a match, and certain donors are more likely to be a match. Half of all Black type O donors are a match for people with SCD, compared to only about 2 percent of type O donors of other ethnicities. Donors of African descent are most likely to be a genetic match, no matter their blood type.3,4
If you donate, your blood is tested for the specific antigens that can help people with SCD. If you have these antigens, the Red Cross will inform you so you can help more people with SCD in the future.2
How to donate blood
The Red Cross has many options that make it easy to set up an appointment to give blood. You can use their Blood Donor app or the online scheduler to make your appointment. You can also call 1-800-RED-CROSS. The entire donating process takes about an hour, with 10 minutes for the actual blood drawing. You can donate blood once every 56 days.6
Donating blood is one of the best ways to support and help your friends and family with SCD. Your healthy red blood cells can make a big difference today!
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