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Sickle Cell Disease Special Needs Factsheet

What Teachers Should Know

Sickle cell disease is an inherited disorder of the red blood cells. It affects about 100,000 people in the United States. African-Americans are affected most by the disease. However, forms of sickle cell disease may occur in people with different ethnic backgrounds, such as those whose ancestors came from Mediterranean countries (including Turkey, Greece, and Italy), East India, or Middle Eastern countries.

In sickle cell disease, the red blood cells become distorted and look C-shaped, like a sickle. Sickle cells die early, which leads to anemia. Also, these sickle-shaped blood cells tend to get stuck in narrow blood vessels and clog blood flow. This can cause severe pain and organ damage. People with sickle cell disease are susceptible to certain bacterial infections.


Students with sickle cell disease may:

  • need to go to the school nurse’s office and take medication to help manage pain
  • need to drink water throughout the day to avoid dehydration, which increases sickling of red blood cells
  • be tired in class and need occasional rests from classroom activities
  • need to have classroom air temperature adjusted to avoid becoming overheated or too cold, which can trigger episodes of pain
  • experience symptoms that require immediate medical attention, such as severe pain, chest pain, breathing difficulties, fever, jaundice or paleness, extreme fatigue, swelling of hands and feet, severe headaches, seizures, and other neurologic symptoms (such as sudden vision changes, slurred speech, weakness or inability to move any part of the body, or loss of consciousness)

What Teachers Can Do

Students with sickle cell disease may miss class time or be absent for doctor visits or hospital stays. Give these students special consideration regarding missed instruction, assignments, and testing.

Chronic fatigue or pain can make some students appear that they are not motivated to learn. Knowing the student well can help you make a proper assessment.

Kids and teens with sickle cell disease may not be able to play contact sports or participate in strenuous exercise — check with their parents. Otherwise, encourage your students with sickle cell disease to participate in moderate physical exercise and other school activities.

Allow your student to carry a bottle of water and take bathroom breaks. Allow breaks from instruction and activities when necessary. Avoid outdoor activities when it’s very hot or very cold.

Have a plan in place in case your students experience any symptoms that require immediate medical attention.

Reviewed by: Mary Lou Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: August 2013