sickle cell anemia

Overview

Sickle cell anemia is one of a group of disorders known as sickle cell disease. Sickle cell anemia is an inherited red blood cell disorder in which there aren't enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout your body.
Normally, the flexible, round red blood cells move easily through blood vessels. In sickle cell anemia, the red blood are shaped like sickles or crescent moons. These rigid, sticky cells can get stuck in small blood vessels, which can slow or block blood flow and oxygen to parts of the body.
There's no cure for most people with sickle cell anemia. But treatments can relieve pain and help prevent complications associated with the disease.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of sickle cell anemia usually appear around 5 months of age. They vary from person to person and change over time. Signs and symptoms can include:
  • Anemia. Sickle cells break apart easily and die, leaving you with too few red blood cells. Red blood cells usually live for about 120 days before they need to be replaced. But sickle cells usually die in 10 to 20 days, leaving a shortage of red blood cells (anemia). Without enough red blood cells, your body can't get enough oxygen, causing fatigue.
  • Episodes of pain. Periodic episodes of pain, called pain crises, are a major symptom of sickle cell anemia. Pain develops when sickle-shaped red blood cells block blood flow through tiny blood vessels to your chest, abdomen and joints. Pain can also occur in your bones. The pain varies in intensity and can last for a few hours to a few weeks. Some people have only a few pain crises a year. Others have a dozen or more pain crises a year. A severe pain crisis requires a hospital stay. Some adolescents and adults with sickle cell anemia also have chronic pain, which can result from bone and joint damage, ulcers, and other causes.
  • Swelling of hands and feet. The swelling is caused by sickle-shaped red blood cells blocking blood flow to the hands and feet.