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Why is it dangerous for heterozygous sickle-cell anemia patients to have low blood oxygen?

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It is dangerous for heterozygous sickle-cell anemia patients to have low blood oxygen because this can lead to developing the symptoms of homozygous sickle-cell anemia, according to the University of Washington. This is because the process of forming sickle cells only occurs in deoxygenated blood.

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Heterozygous sickle-cell anemia is most common in people living in regions of Africa with high rates of malaria, says the University of Washington. Having heterozygous sickle-cell anemia means that a person has one copy of the gene that causes sickle-cell anemia and one gene for normal blood cells. The changes in hemoglobin that the sickle-cell anemia gene causes is protective against malaria. With normal blood, rates of death from malaria are much higher, while having two copies of the sickle-cell anemia gene usually leads to death before the age of 20. Heterozygous sickle-cell anemia protects against malaria while also usually allowing for normal circulatory function.

Sickle-cell anemia is named for the fact that, as red blood cells with this gene release oxygen, their hemoglobin changes shape and distorts the cells into a sickle shape, according to the University of Washington. These blood cells can block smaller blood vessels leading to pain in the joints and bones, strokes, blindness and damage to internal organs.

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