Sickle Cell Disease May Affect the Brain

BETHESDA, Md., May 17 (UPI) — A multicenter U.S. study suggests sickle cell disease might affect the brain functions of adults who have few or mild complications of the blood disorder.

The National Institutes of Health-funded research is said to be the first to examine cognitive functioning in adults with sickle cell disease. Researchers said they compared brain function scores and imaging tests in adult patients with few sickle cell complications with results from similar adults who did not have the blood disease.

The scientists found brain function scores in sickle cell patients were, on average, in the normal range. But twice as many patients as healthy adults (33 percent versus 15 percent) scored below normal levels and those who were more likely to score lower were older and had the lowest levels of hemoglobin — the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen in the blood — compared to sickle cell participants who scored higher.

Researchers at 12 sites within the NIH-supported Comprehensive Sickle Cell Centers conducted the study.

The research, led by Dr. Elliott Vichinsky of the Children’s Hospital & Research Center in Oakland, Calif., appears in the May 12 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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