Many conditions can be exacerbated during the winter due to the drop in temperatures. One of these conditions is Sickle cell disease, also known as sickle cell anaemia.
What is Sickle cell disease?
Sickle cell refers to a group of genetic health conditions which affect a person’s red blood cells. It predominantly affects people with an African or Caribbean heritage.
When someone is living with Sickle Cell Disease, their body produces unusually shaped red blood cells (shaped like sickles rather than the usual round shape), which can cause health issues. These sickled cells don’t live as long as healthy red blood cells and can also block blood vessels, leading to painful episodes known as ‘pain crisis’.
It’s estimated that around 15,000 people in the UK are living with Sickle cell. As sickle cell is an inherited condition, if both parents have the sickle cell gene, there’s a 25% chance that each child they have will be born with sickle cell disease.
How does the Winter affect Sickle Cell?
When our bodies are exposed to cold temperatures, our blood vessels narrow, particularly in the hands, feet, nose and ears; for those living with sickle cell disease who already experience difficulty with blood travelling through vessels, this constriction can lead to a painful sickle cell crisis, which occurs more frequently during the colder months.
It’s also important for those living with sickle cell to stay hydrated and, typically, people consume less water when it’s cold outside. The winter also brings about viral infections like the flu which are harder to live with when a person has sickle cell disease due to a weakened immune system.
How to manage Sickle cell disease during the Winter?
- Wrap up warm
One of the most important things someone living with Sickle Cell disease can do during the winter is to wrap up warm when heading out into the cold. Make sure to wear a warm coat along with layers so they can be removed easily if going from cold to warm environments. During very cold and windy weather, make sure to go out with a hat, gloves, and scarf to protect the areas of the body which are normally exposed to the cold and lose heat quickly.
When participating in winter activities outside, make sure to do so in intervals where you can rest and hydrate yourself in-between. Also make sure to stay hydrated with plenty of water. Hot beverages like tea can also be hydrating and warm up the body, but too much caffeine can lead to dehydration.
- Remember to wash your hands
When someone is living with sickle cell disease, they have a weakened immune system so are more susceptible to catch the common cold, covid-19 or the flu that is rampant during the autumn and winter months. Be sure to take steps to prevent infection such as washing your hands regularly and using hand sanitiser. You should also ensure that you have enough of your usual pain relief to hand in case of a crisis.
Is there a cure for sickle cell disease?
There are currently no cures for sickle cell disease, however the key to effective treatments could lie in your blood. MAC Clinical Research are looking for volunteers to take part in a clinical trial in Manchester to evaluate a potential new treatment for sickle cell disease vaso-occlusive (pain) crisis. The purpose of the study is to learn more about how a potential new drug affects the body and how the body processes it. If you (or someone you know) are aged 18-60, diagnosed with sickle cell disease and would like to take part in this vital research, find out more by visiting MAC’s sickle cell disease research webpage. If eligible, you will receive up to £2,800 for your time and commitment to this research. With your help, we can improve quality of life for those living with sickle cell disease pain.