How Does Sickle Cell Trait affect Blood Clots?

Sickle cell trait is typically found in African American populations, basically describing a blood clotting condition that is chronically hyperactive in nature. Having the trait for sickle cell places that individual at a doubled risk for the potential of developing a blood clot. Why?

Sickle cell trait causes the blood cells to take on an abnormal shape – that of a sickle – hence the name. Instead of the circular or oval and slightly concave shape normally seen with red blood cells, sickle shapes take on an elongated, curved or sickled shape.

Sickle cell shaped red blood cells traveling through the blood stream places that individual at risk due to their edges or shape having an increased likelihood of ‘catching’ on one another, and increasing clumping potential. The resulting clumps get stuck in blood vessels, especially around natural curvatures of blood vessels in the legs, trunk, lungs, or around the heart.

Sickle cell disease often manifests itself around 4 to 5 months of age and worsens over time. For many, the condition leads to the development of a variety of complications. One of the complications of sickle cell is a crisis or a severe pain episode caused by blocked blood flow in a vein or artery.

How can I help prevent a sickle cell crisis from developing blood clots?

Some simple ways individuals help themselves to prevent developing blood clots associated with sickle cell traits include:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water
  • Maintaining an even body temperature - being too hot or too cold affects the normal flow of blood
  • Avoiding extremes in altitude, such as flying, or hiking in tall mountain ranges, as altitude also affects the thickness or thinness of the blood
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Exercising! With sickle cell, ask your healthcare provider for any risks or limitations prior to engaging in a workout program. Those diagnosed with the condition should use caution with exercise – avoidance of vigorous or strenuous exercise is often recommended.
  • Eat a balanced diet

Do any treatments help prevent blood clotting in those with sickle cell disease?

Some treatment options exist for individuals diagnosed with sickle cell to prevent blood clots, such as a medication called Hydroxyurea and L-glutamine, both approved by the FDA.

More intensive treatments may include a blood transfusion or bone marrow transplant.

As with all health issues, having open and honest communications with your health care provider is beneficial. Alert your medical provider with any new complications, symptoms, or changes in lifestyle or habits.

Prevention of blood clots due to sickle cell may not be entirely avoidable, but interventions are possible to decrease the risk and ensure a life full of meaningful activity.

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