Transfusions Can Slash Sickle Cell Stroke Risk

October 22, 2014 at 3:47 pm

By Dayna Kerecman Myers

Regular blood transfusions can significantly reduce the incidence of strokes in children with sickle cell anemia, a new study shows.

Results of the clinical trial, published in August in the New England Journal of Medicine, tracked children with sickle cell anemia and found that monthly blood transfusions may reduce the risk of “silent” stroke. The anemia caused by sickle cell disease sometimes causes the body to react by increasing blood flow to the brain – leading to the injury known as silent cerebral infarcts (SCIs), or silent strokes. SCIs are common in children suffering from the disease and are associated with a propensity for future strokes, poor academic achievement and lower IQ.

According to an article in US News & World Report describing the research, about one-third of children afflicted with sickle cell anemia develop complications including strokes from the disrupted blood flow to the brain—and while the symptoms may not be readily apparent, they can damage brain tissue.

For the study, nearly 200 children who showed signs of a past silent stroke were divided into an observation group and a transfusion group. The transfusion group received monthly blood transfusions. Over three years, six out of 99 children in the transfusion group experienced a silent stroke, compared to 14 of 97 children in the observation group.

Not everyone suffering from the disease will have easy access to transfusions. But the findings suggest that children with sickle cell anemia should receive MRIs to check for evidence of silent stroke—now that regular transfusions have been confirmed as a treatment option.

Sickle cell can be an extremely painful disease, with its trademark sickle-shaped, sticky red blood cells that can obstruct the normal flow of blood and lead to painful crises. The CDC reports that sickle cell anemia disproportionately afflicts people of African, South and Central American, and Mediterranean descent, including 90,000 to 100,000 in the United States, mainly African Americans. There is no cure, making therapies including blood transfusions an important treatment.

Last month was National Sickle Cell Awareness Month, created by the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America (SCDAA) to encourage the public to reflect on the obstacles people who suffer from the disease face—in their education and career prospects, and all aspects of their lives. While Sickle Cell Awareness Month has passed, the importance of supporting those who suffer this disease remains. Why not help someone directly by signing up today to be a blood donor at Please help us spread the word too that blood centers, including SBC, need more blood donors from minority populations. This is especially important when it comes to treating people with sickle cell anemia because, according to SCDAA, “African American blood donors are the best match for African Americans living with Sickle Cell.”