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Confronting Life Expectancy With Sickle Cell

Progress in treating and managing sickle cell disease (SCD) is helping patients with the condition live much longer than previously.

Confronting Life Expectancy With Sickle Cell

In the 1970s, the average life expectancy of someone with SCD was only 14 years old. Recently, that number increased to 40 to 45 years old. Presently, studies show SCD patients can expect to live to about 61 years old. To put this number into context, the life expectancy of a majority of people in the United States is around 77 years old.

New sickle cell disease therapies

Many medical treatments are designed to help people to live longer and healthier lives. Since 2017, a few new therapies for SCD have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Now, Endari™ (L-glutamine) and Adakveo® (crizanlizumab-tmca) are helping to ease pain crises in people with SCD. And Oxbryta® (voxelotor) decreases low red blood cell counts (anemia). Before these drugs were introduced, hydroxyurea was the only approved medication for SCD.

Doctors and researchers also keep looking at bone marrow or stem cell transplants as a cure for SCD. This procedure involves replacing your bone marrow stem cells with healthy bone marrow stem cells from a screened donor.

The therapies have not been applied long enough for doctors to have a full understanding of its impact on life expectancy. Researchers will keep carrying out studies to find out how best they work in different people and ages.

Sickle cell disease care

Living a longer live also depends on the level of a SCD patient’s way of living life in terms of taking care of themselves. Now, doctors screen newborns for the condition, and more education is provided on problems that can arise from SCD.

In a study that looked at trends in hospital death rates due to SCD, medical researchers found that while people with SDCD are living longer, health insurance status, income, and the condition of your home all impact life expectancy.

These researchers are also studying the role played by race-related health disparities in the lives of sickle cell patients’ life expectancy. Health disparity is a term doctors employ to explain health differences between groups of people. SCD is known to affect Black Americans more often than other races and ethnicities in the U.S. Some with SCD say doctors often ignore or minimize their symptoms. Such a dismissal can lead to poorer care and worse outcomes, including death.

SCD also receives less research funding and fewer therapies than other illnesses. Such diseases, like cystic fibrosis, tend to significantly affect more white Americans.

The experiences of older adults with SCD

Although people living with SCD are now living longer, researchers however have a lot to keep learning about older adults with the disease. More knowledge will help medical practitioners to better serve this group as they grow older.

Researchers interviewed a group of people of between 50 to 71 years of age about living with SCD. The group shared their experiences about their challenges such as keeping a job, physical restrictions as well as other health issues such as fatigue.

Many of them also explained that age comes with  awareness about SCD. The older adults now feel more confident preparing themselves for pain crises and managing it.  And, their beliefs about life expectancy have changed. While doctors expected them to only live to about 18 years of age, they trusted that they would live long via healthy lifestyle choices.

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