Maintaining Relationships Challenging for Young Men With Sickle Cell

June 17, 2022
Kenny Walter

Kenny Walter is an editor with HCPLive. Prior to joining MJH Life Sciences in 2019, he worked as a digital reporter covering nanotechnology, life sciences, material science and more with R&D Magazine. He graduated with a degree in journalism from Temple University in 2008 and began his career as a local reporter for a chain of weekly newspapers based on the Jersey shore. When not working, he enjoys going to the beach and enjoying the shore in the summer and watching North Carolina Tar Heel basketball in the winter.

There is not much known on the link between sickle cell disease and romantic relationships, particularly from the male perspective.

New research suggests many challenges for men with sickle cell disease in maintain romantic relationships.

Shrina Patel recently explored how sickle cell disease impacts romantic relationships for men in the UK.

The Theory

Patients with sickle cell disease often have short and long-term physical and mental health impacts, as well as challenges with stigma and health inequalities. These challenges also can have a profound impact on relationships.

“Individuals with SCD may also experience stigma from close family and friends due to limited understanding of the condition and cultural-specific misconceptions,” the authors wrote. “[Investigators] found that family and friends of individuals with SCD, perceived families as flawed if a family member had SCD.”

However there is not much known on the link between sickle cell disease and romantic relationships, particularly from the male perspective.

“Despite its prevalence, there is a notable lack of awareness and understanding about the condition within the general population, which contributes to the stigma and health inequalities faced by individuals with SCD,” the authors wrote. “An important source of support for these individuals are the people within their close networks; however, research into the psychosocial impact of SCD, including its effects on relationships, is scarce.”

Surveying Men

In the study, the investigators used a qualitative methodology, using semi-structured interviews for 7 men between 20-39 years. Each participant shared their views and experiences. The investigator collected basic demographic information from each participant. The average age was 30 years and 5 of the 7 participants were not currently in a relationship.

The patients also averaged 3 pain crises annually.

Each interview ranged from 49-77 minutes.

Of the 7 participants, there were 3 interconnected themes identified—societal and cultural norms concerning romantic relationships’, ‘lack of awareness and understanding, misconceptions and stigma around sickle cell disease’, and ‘disclosing sickle cell disease within a romantic relationship’.

One distinct finding was all participants described what they felt their ‘role as a man’ was to be in a romantic relationship. This included ‘stereotypically masculine’ qualities such as being the ‘provider’, appearing ‘strong’, and ‘not talking about their feelings’.

The subtopics within these themes included discussions on reproductive decisions, masculinity, sexual relationships, being a burden, and adapting and acceptance of sickle cell disease.

The investigators did have suggestions for improving care.

“Supporting men with these difficulties may include change at individual level, for instance healthcare professionals using a holistic approach, including psychological therapy to support these men,” the authors wrote. “In addition, broader/societal level approaches such as increasing awareness, knowledge and understanding around SCD, in order to reduce the detrimental effects felt by these men and enabling them to live more fulfilling and satisfying lives.”

The study, "Sickle Cell Disease in Young Men, and Its Impact on Relationships," was published online.


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