Children with sickle cell disease can experience intense pain or chronic fatigue, issues, which can interfere with their performance in the classroom.
"Sickle cell affects one in 400 African-American children," said Dr. Donald Mahoney, director of hematology at Texas Children's Cancer Center and Hematology Service. "Some of the conditions of sickle cell impact the students in the classroom."
Children with sickle cell can sometimes miss several weeks of classes each school year because of complications from the disease and medical appointments.
"It's important that families and school officials work together closely to ensure that the students can catch up on any work that they miss. We want to keep these children in school, leading normal lives," said Mahoney, also a professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.
Children with sickle cell should have frequent water and rest breaks. "These children might not have the stamina of their classmates," Mahoney said. "And getting plenty of fluids is very important in avoiding pain episodes."
Children with sickle cell should also avoid sudden changes in temperature.
"Even if it's 90 degrees outside on the playground, when the child comes in to an air-conditioned classroom, he should wear a jacket until his body adjusts," he said.
School officials should have an action plan on file for students with sickle cell disease and should be aware of conditions, like fever or signs of infection, that require immediate medical attention.
It's also important that teachers and the school nurse have a good understanding of the complications of sickle cell and how to handle them, particularly pain episodes.
"One thing we tell school officials is the general guideline is, 'Believe the child.' If the child says there is pain, treat that pain," he said.
Often, pain medication along with a rest break and drinking lots of fluids can provide relief from the pain.
Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder caused by an abnormality in the red blood cells. Complications from the disease include episodes of severe pain, risk for infection and neurologic problems.
OTHER NEWS ABOUT SICKLE CELL
Hopkins Researchers Combat Sickle Cell Anemia In Mice With "Mini-Transplant"
Treatments for sickle cell anemia, such as blood transfusions and total marrow transplants, sometimes have toxic side effects. In developing a safer, lasting treatment, Johns Hopkins Children's Center researchers are testing a new bone marrow transplant method in mice.
A group led by pediatric hematologists Robert Iannone, M.D., and James Casella, M.D., and oncologist Ephraim Fuchs, M.D., found that a "mini-transplant" of just 40% normal bone marrow in the rodents was enough to reduce anemia and life-threatening organ injury, the most damaging symptoms of sickle cell anemia.
A genetic blood disease, sickle cell anemia disproportionately affects Americans of West African descent. One in 600 black Americans has the full-blown disease, and one in 12 blacks is a carrier of the gene mutation that causes sickle cell anemia.
"Mini-transplants" are being offered on an investigational basis at The Johns Hopkins Hospital to some patients with sickle cell anemia who have a sibling that is a perfect bone marrow match and able to serve as a bone marrow donor.
For more information about sickle cell disease and support services visit the websites: SickleCellDisease.org or www.ascaa.org.