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Negligently Managed Acute Sickle Cell Crisis

A sickle cell crisis is a complication of sickle cell anaemia. If it is not treated in time, the consequences could prove fatal.

What is a sickle cell crisis?

Sickle cell anaemia is a genetic condition where the red blood cells, which carry oxygen, develop abnormally. Instead of being a round and flexible, they are shaped like a crescent. Because of their shape the cells have a shorter lifespan, meaning the sufferer has a shortage of red blood cells, and therefore a shortage of oxygen. This leads to the symptoms of anaemia.

The abnormal shape of the red blood cells can also mean that they cause a blockage in the small blood vessels. This results in the deprivation of oxygen and nutrients in the surrounding tissues. This is known as an acute sickle cell crisis and is among the most severe physical pain endurable. The same sort of pain is experienced by people having a heart attack, but rather than being localised to the central chest, the sickle cell crisis pain is quite widespread, often in adults involving the chest and back.

Treating a sickle cell crisis

Because the pain of a sickle cell crisis is frightening in intensity, most sufferers will go straight to their nearest A&E department. There medical professionals should note that a patient suffers from sickle cell anaemia and consequently realise that he or she is experiencing an episode of sickle cell crisis.

A delay may occur if the patient does not know he or she has sickle cell anaemia. All babies born in the UK are screened for the condition at birth, and all pregnant women are offered a screening test. Despite this, it is not unusual for the condition to be diagnosed in adulthood, as a patient may not have been born in the UK. Even so, the hospital should be able to diagnose the problem with a routine blood test. Suspicions should also be raised if the patient has an African or Caribbean heritage, as sickle cell anaemia is particularly common is area where malaria is, or was, prevalent.

Once diagnosed, no time should be wasted in providing treatment. This will involve a blood transfusion, while some will also require respiratory support.

Sickle cell crisis and medical negligence

As long as a diagnosis is made in a timely fashion and appropriate treatment provided, a patient can make a full recovery from a sickle cell crisis.

However, if medical professionals fail to suspect a sickle cell crisis, leaving a patient to suffer severe pain and impaired respiratory function, the consequences could be devastating. This is because the body will be deprived of oxygen, something which will eventually prove fatal.

If this has happened to you or your loved one, you need to talk to a solicitor about making a medical negligence claim, as you could be entitled to compensation.

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