Diseases of the Cardiovascular System

Sickle Cell Anemia

Normal red blood cells are circular with a slight depression in the middle. Sickle cell red blood cells are shaped like the letter “C”.  The malformed red blood cells in people with sickle cell anemia tend to clump and get stuck in the blood vessels. Furthermore, the hemoglobin is abnormal and does not carry oxygen as well as it should.

Cause: This disorder is passed on genetically, which means it is inherited from one’s parents. The abnormal hemoglobin protein causes the sickle shape of the red blood cell.

Symptoms: Most of the symptoms like pain, infection, and damage to the organs are a result of these abnormal blood cells forming clumps or clots forming in the blood vessels. This damage can prevent tissues from getting a fresh supply of oxygen.

Treatment: People with sickle cell disease are given antibiotics and folic acid to prevent infections, since they tend to have weaker immune systems. Pain medicine can treat the discomfort of the disorder. Bone marrow transplants, blood transfusions, and a drug called hydroxyurea are also used as treatments.

Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is a disease that results in the hardening of the arteries, usually from the buildup of fatty acids, cholesterol, and calcium. This can cause the arteries to narrow, which reduces the amount of blood and oxygen that reaches tissues, causing damage.

Cause: Poor diet, not enough exercise, and smoking can contribute to atherosclerosis. This disease can also be genetically inherited.

Symptoms: Atherosclerosis does not cause symptoms until blood flow to a part of the body is slow or blocked. Narrow or blocked arteries can cause chest pain and shortness of breath. 

Treatment: Statins are drugs that treat atherosclerosis by lowering blood cholesterol levels. Some patients are also given low doses of aspirin to prevent blood clotting and improve blood flow through the blood vessels. Surgery such as angioplasty may be used to remove blockages from blood vessels.