October 27, 2022

ADHD, Sickle Cell Disease and the need for Black blood donors

Ahead of the ADHD Babes Blood drive, learn more about the impact of having both Sickle Cell and ADHD, and the importance of blood donation

Moji Alli

ADHD Babe & Sickle Cell Warrior

ADHD, Sickle Cell Disease and the need for Black blood donors

As a person that lives with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) I cannot emphasise the importance of the role that blood donors play in our lives. They are a literal lifeline and help support so many individuals who depend on blood donation, especially in the times where our health is hanging in the balance.

Sickle Cell Disease is a genetic blood disorder that affects the red blood cells, causing them to become abnormally shaped which makes it extremely difficult for them to travel around the body. The sickle-shaped blood cells disrupt blood flow when they become clumped together in the blood vessels and this brings about many serious and life-threatening complications. A major symptom associated with Sickle Cell Disease is something known as a Sickle Cell Crisis which causes immeasurable amounts of pain all over the body and is highly distressing. Some of the ways in which blood donations help reduce symptoms and improve the quality of life of patients with Sickle Cell are through treatments such as:

  • Red Cell Exchange – this involves replacing a percentage of sickle-shaped blood cells with healthy donor blood cells via an automated machine (Blood Cell Separator) which helps reduce sickle cell complications. This transfusion is usually administered at specific intervals e.g. every 4-8 weeks.
  • Simple Blood Transfusion – this involves transfusing donor blood without removing/replacing the patient’s existing blood volume. This process is usually carried out intravenously where units of blood are given via a drip. Patients typically receive this type of transfusion as a ‘’top-up’’.

As highlighted above, blood donation remains to be a crucial resource for patients with Sickle Cell who rely on transfusions as an essential part of their treatment. Having been a recipient of blood transfusions in the past, I truly understand how such interventions need to be readily available for those who need it. The NHS has identified Sickle Cell as the fastest growing genetic condition in the UK and the demand for blood has increased by 67% in five years. Although Sickle Cell is not a condition that exclusively affects people of Black African and Caribbean descent, it does impact a high percentage and with this comes a need for blood donation from these specific communities.

For this reason, in recent times there has been a rise in campaigns directed at the Black community, urging them to give blood. You may be wondering why this is the case, but it is important for donor blood to closely match the blood type of the patient who requires the transfusion/s and the chances of receiving this are higher from donors of Black heritage. In addition to this, individuals from the Black community are more likely to possess the Ro subtype (around 55%), which is a rare blood type and unfortunately there is currently a shortage of donors with this special blood group. When we begin to consider all of these things, it becomes clear as to why there has been an urgent call for more Black donors to help meet the rising demand for better matched blood that is used to treat those with Sickle Cell Disease.

It has been interesting to reflect on my individual journey with Sickle Cell especially in context with my recent ADHD diagnosis. Around this time last year, I was grappling with what felt like a perpetual state of burnout at my job which eventually led to an extended period of sick leave. I was finally able to slow down and examine my symptoms more closely which is when I began to suspect I may have ADHD. After discussing my concerns with my GP, I was put forward for the referral process, and fast-forward to earlier this summer, I was officially diagnosed following my assessment. It feels so surreal to know that I was unknowingly contending with a whole other condition and I’ve spent some time looking at the overlap between my SCD and ADHD symptoms, which has been revealing to say the least. For example, having a low tolerance for stress is synonymous with both ADHD and SCD, and for the latter can trigger a Sickle Cell Crisis. Drawing these parallels has allowed me to see how one singular factor can worsen symptoms for both conditions, as well as my ability to adequately manage them. Additionally, living with Sickle Cell means I am chronically anaemic and so I have grown accustomed to feelings of tiredness, fatigue and low energy levels on a daily basis. However, when this is compounded with executive dysfunction, I can now see why task initiation has been that much harder for me and not to mention the increased issues I face with focus and concentration as a result.

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These are just some of the ways I have noticed the crossover between both conditions, and they regularly elicit strong feelings of self-compassion as I continue to juggle the two simultaneously. Fortunately, my retrospective insights have allowed me to cultivate and implement tools to help manage my diagnoses with more awareness. This ultimately starts with extending myself grace, especially in instances where it is obvious I am struggling with the things I named above.

Last month put a spotlight on Sickle Cell Awareness and in conjunction with Black History Month and ADHD Awareness Month this October, ADHD Babes have partnered with Tiimo to facilitate a campaign which will involve hosting a blood drive to encourage members of the UK Black community to give blood. The blood drive will take place on the 30th of October and you can sign up here. This is a great opportunity to give back and not only improve, but save the lives of those who live with this blood disorder. When I think back to a time I received a blood transfusion, I vividly remember feeling the benefits shortly after. I would describe it as a rejuvenation of the body which greatly lessened the symptoms of a severe Sickle Cell Crisis I had experienced that led to a hospital admission.

You can also listen to a special ADHD Babes podcast episode (sponsored by Tiimo) where I talk more about the overlap between my Sickle Cell and ADHD symptoms. Please do check it out and share the episode far and wide! The advocacy around blood donation and Sickle Cell Disease means so much to me and I see spreading awareness as a vital role because I understand and can directly relate to the multitude of challenges faced by my fellow Sickle Cell Warriors. I would like to extend a huge thank you to all blood donors for your selfless acts. If you would like more information on giving blood as a black donor (in the UK), please do check out this page. Thank you for reading!

Moji is from South East London with a work background in HR. She loves travelling, listening to podcasts and is currently exploring her love for writing. You can find her on instagram at @moji_x


If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, here is a list of resources: 

  1. Choosing Therapy's Therapist Directory: a directory with which you can search for therapists who share your identities (e.g., Black and brown therapists, LGBTQIA+ therapists) and/or have experience working with folks who share your identities.
  2. Best Online Therapy Services: an article written by therapy service expert Caitlin Bell reviewing dozens of therapy platforms.
  3. Best Online Psychiatrists: a list of psychiatry services curated by Dr. Emily Guarnotta, a licensed clinical psychologist.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) (United States), or dial 911. If you are in the United Kingdom, click here to find your local NHS urgent mental health helpline, or dial 111.

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