Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

MHS Tackles SCD Through a Variety of Treatment Methods

Image of Military personnel donating blood. Marine Cpl. Wenchelson Baptiste donates blood for the Armed Services Blood Program outside Hopkins Hall Gym on Camp Elmore in Norfolk, Virginia, June 21. Among the most common uses of red blood cells obtained through red blood cell donation, which can be done through the ASBP, are transfusions for people with sickle cell (Photo by: Marine Lance Cpl. Jack Chen).

Recommended Content:

Armed Services Blood Program

Although sickle cell disease is incompatible with an active military career, it can affect other military beneficiaries, and have an impact on a service member's readiness. Still, treatment attempts to keep patients as healthy as possible.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that sickle cell disease affects approximately 100,000 Americans, including roughly one in every 365 African-American births and one out of every 16,300 Hispanic-American births.

Sickle cell disease, or SCD, is a group of inherited red blood cell disorders. The condition causes red blood cells to become hard and sticky, and look like a sickle, the c-shaped farm tool used for cutting grass or harvesting crops.

"Sickle cell disease is one of dozens and dozens of hemoglobin mutations that occur in humans and cause disease," said Army Col. (Dr.) Andrew Cap, director of research at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and a practicing hematologist at Brooke Army Medical Center.

"Sickle cell basically does two things: It causes what we call an 'ineffective hematopoiesis,' in the sense that your bone marrow is busy making red cells, but they tend to get cleared more quickly from circulation because they get damaged," he said. "The structural change of the shape of the cells also causes problems. When they change to that sickle shape, they lose their flexibility. They have the potential to get clogged up in multiple organs."

Cap explained that 'sickle cell crises' result from clogging capillaries, starving tissues of oxygen. This can be caused by increased metabolic demand, including physical activity, other ailments including colds and flus, and temperature changes.

"Not every patient with sickle cell looks the same, in the sense that it's not necessarily predictable - this amount of activity, or that degree of cold, or this illness," Cap said. "There's a spectrum of disease severity that's highly variable."

Problems resulting from sickle cell disease range from anemia and acute chest crisis, where sickled blood cells get trapped in a person’s lungs and prevent the normal gas exchange needed for normal breathing, to blockages in other vital organs and capillaries throughout the body.

Within the Military Health System, patients with sickle cell disease are limited to dependents of service members due to the health complications surrounding it.

"Unfortunately, the physiologic effects of sickle cell are quite dramatic and incompatible with having a healthy life, period," explained Cap. "Most of our sickle population is actually in the pediatric realm because they're dependents."

Treatments include folic acid and vitamin B12, due to the vitamin deficiencies created by the body's compensation for the lack of healthy red blood cells; hydration and pain management; as well as avoiding situations that may result in an adverse reaction.

"We try to keep these patients as healthy as possible," said Cap.

Another treatment is hydroxyurea, which causes your body to produce "younger" red blood cells, or red blood cells that are similar to what your body produced as a fetus.

"This causes your body to make more 'fetal' hemoglobin and less sickled hemoglobin," said Cap.

Although it doesn't affect active-duty service members, another vital treatment for those with sickle cell disease is blood transfusion. Among the most common uses of red blood cells obtained through red blood cell donation, which can be done through the Armed Services Blood Program, are transfusions for people with sickle cell.

World Sickle Cell Awareness Day was June 19.

You also may be interested in...

Blood Recipient ‘Keeps On’ Telling Others About the Impact Donors Make

Article Around MHS
9/1/2022
Vanessa Aguilar donating blood

Vanessa Aguilar is the ASBP blood donor recruiter at U.S. Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command Guam Blood Donor Center (US NMRTCG BDC). 

Recommended Content:

Armed Services Blood Program

Chicago area Army Reserve Soldiers donate blood to combat supply shortage

Article Around MHS
5/4/2022
Military medical personnel donating blood

Earlier this Spring, the 85th U.S. Army Reserve Support Command hosted an Armed Services Blood Program (ASBP) blood drive at the COL Paul G. Schulstad United States Army Reserve Center in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

Recommended Content:

Armed Services Blood Program

An Appreciation for Every Drop at Naval Hospital Bremerton

Article Around MHS
2/4/2022
Military personnel posing for a picture

ASBBC-PNW recognized NHB Jan. 24, 2022, for being instrumental in organizing, promoting and holding blood drives, especially during the time COVID shut down collection efforts during 2020 and continued to effect donation attempts during 2021.

Recommended Content:

Armed Services Blood Program

Blood Donations Are Mission Critical 365 Days a Year

Article Around MHS
2/1/2022
Military personnel handling blood samples

Blood donations are more than important—they are mission essential.

Recommended Content:

Armed Services Blood Program

Navy Corpsmen Help Keep Life-Saving Blood Products Flowing

Article Around MHS
1/3/2022
Navy Hospitalman Jia Li Chen works at the Armed Services Blood Bank Center-Pacific Northwest in charge of helping keep life-saving blood product flowing.

Blood products collected are distributed world-wide to provide support from deployed troops overseas to veterans and their families at home.

Recommended Content:

Armed Services Blood Program

Blood donor center opens at new location

Article Around MHS
11/4/2021
Military personnel cutting a ribbon at the new blood donor center

The Fort Gordon community and Armed Services Blood Program celebrated the reopening of Kendrick Memorial Blood Center with a ribbon cutting ceremony Oct. 15. KMBC is part of the ASBP, the military’s official provider of blood products for service members and their families in both peace and war.

Recommended Content:

Armed Services Blood Program

Retired colonel Recognized with the ASBP Lifetime Achievement Award

Article Around MHS
10/20/2021
Retired Army Col. Francisco "Frank" Rentas shown in 2003 with the 'Golden Hour Container.'

The Armed Services Blood Program named Retired Army Col. Francisco “Frank” J. Rentas as the recipient of the 2021 ASBP Lifetime Achievement Award.

Recommended Content:

Armed Services Blood Program
Showing results 1 - 7 Page 1 of 1
Refine your search
Last Updated: June 23, 2021

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.