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What causes sickle cell anemia?

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Quick Answer

Sickle cell anemia is a blood disorder that occurs among individuals who have inherited two recessive genes for the condition. According to Mayo Clinic, the disorder is characterized by irregularly shaped red blood cells that are unable to carry oxygen efficiently throughout the body.

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Normal red blood cells are circular with a depressed area at their center, explains Mayo Clinic. This shape allows them to take up oxygen efficiently and carry it to cells around the body that need it. Patients with sickle cell anemia, however, have inherited genes that cause red blood cells to contort into a shape that resembles a sickle, which give the disorder its name, and to develop a sticky surface that inhibits the passage of oxygen across the cell's membrane.

According to Wikipedia, the disorder is sometimes fatal and can cause severe disability in sufferers. It is treatable, however, and a combination of vaccinations and maintenance treatments can ease its symptoms. One reason the disorder persists in the human gene pool is possibly its relationship with malaria. People with only a single recessive gene for the disorder do not typically develop sickle cell anemia, but they are highly resistant to malaria. The condition only becomes life threatening when two such genes are inherited. People with both genes are not only anemic, but they have no unusual resistance to malaria.

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