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Sickle Cell Anemia


Sickle cell anemia is an inherited type of anemia — a situation through which there aren’t sufficient wholesome crimson blood cells to hold enough oxygen all through your physique.

Usually, your crimson blood cells are versatile and spherical, transferring simply by means of your blood vessels. In sickle cell anemia, the crimson blood cells grow to be inflexible and sticky and are formed like sickles or crescent moons. These irregularly formed cells can get caught in small blood vessels, which might sluggish or block blood circulation and oxygen to elements of the physique.

There is not any treatment for most individuals with sickle cell anemia. However remedies can relieve ache and assist stop issues related to the illness.


Indicators and signs of sickle cell anemia, which range from individual to individual and alter over time, embody:

  • Anemia. Sickle cells break aside simply and die, leaving you with out sufficient crimson blood cells. Pink blood cells often dwell for about 120 days earlier than they have to be changed. However sickle cells often die in 10 to 20 days, leaving a scarcity of crimson blood cells (anemia).

    With out sufficient crimson blood cells, your physique cannot get the oxygen it must really feel energized, inflicting fatigue.

  • Episodes of ache. Periodic episodes of ache, known as crises, are a significant symptom of sickle cell anemia. Ache develops when sickle-shaped crimson blood cells block blood circulation by means of tiny blood vessels to your chest, stomach and joints. Ache may also happen in your bones.

    The ache varies in depth and might final for just a few hours to some weeks. Some folks have only some ache episodes. Others have a dozen or extra crises a 12 months. If a disaster is extreme sufficient, you would possibly have to be hospitalized.

    Some adolescents and adults with sickle cell anemia even have power ache, which might end result from bone and joint harm, ulcers and different causes.

  • Painful swelling of arms and toes. The swelling is attributable to sickle-shaped crimson blood cells blocking blood circulation to the arms and toes.
  • Frequent infections. Sickle cells can harm an organ that fights an infection (spleen), leaving you extra susceptible to infections. Docs generally give infants and kids with sickle cell anemia vaccinations and antibiotics to forestall probably life-threatening infections, reminiscent of pneumonia.
  • Delayed progress. Pink blood cells present your physique with the oxygen and vitamins you want for progress. A scarcity of wholesome crimson blood cells can sluggish progress in infants and kids and delay puberty in youngsters.
  • Imaginative and prescient issues. Tiny blood vessels that provide your eyes might grow to be plugged with sickle cells. This will harm the retina — the portion of the attention that processes visible photos, resulting in imaginative and prescient issues.

When to see a physician

Though sickle cell anemia is often identified in infancy, for those who or your youngster develops any of the next issues, see your physician immediately or search emergency medical care:

  • Unexplained episodes of extreme ache, reminiscent of ache within the stomach, chest, bones or joints.
  • Swelling within the arms or toes.
  • Belly swelling, particularly if the realm is tender to the contact.
  • Fever. Folks with sickle cell anemia have an elevated threat of an infection, and fever will be the primary signal of an an infection.
  • Pale pores and skin or nail beds.
  • Yellow tint to the pores and skin or whites of the eyes.
  • Indicators or signs of stroke. For those who discover one-sided paralysis or weak spot within the face, arms or legs; confusion; bother strolling or speaking; sudden imaginative and prescient issues or unexplained numbness; or a headache, name 911 or your native emergency quantity immediately.
Request an Appointment at Mayo Clinic


Sickle cell anemia is attributable to a mutation within the gene that tells your physique to make the crimson, iron-rich compound that offers blood its crimson shade (hemoglobin). Hemoglobin permits crimson blood cells to hold oxygen out of your lungs to all elements of your physique. In sickle cell anemia, the irregular hemoglobin causes crimson blood cells to grow to be inflexible, sticky and misshapen.

The sickle cell gene is handed from era to era in a sample of inheritance known as autosomal recessive inheritance. Which means each the mom and the daddy should cross on the faulty type of the gene for a kid to be affected.

If just one dad or mum passes the sickle cell gene to the kid, that youngster could have the sickle cell trait. With one regular hemoglobin gene and one faulty type of the gene, folks with the sickle cell trait make each regular hemoglobin and sickle cell hemoglobin. Their blood would possibly include some sickle cells, however they typically do not have signs. However they’re carriers of the illness, which suggests they’ll cross the gene to their kids.

Danger components

For a child to be born with sickle cell anemia, each dad and mom should carry a sickle cell gene. In the US, it mostly impacts black folks.


Sickle cell anemia can result in a bunch of problems, together with:

  • Stroke. A stroke can happen if sickle cells block blood circulation to an space of your mind. Indicators of stroke embody seizures, weak spot or numbness of your legs and arms, sudden speech difficulties, and lack of consciousness. In case your child or youngster has any of those indicators and signs, search medical remedy instantly. A stroke will be deadly.
  • Acute chest syndrome. This life-threatening complication causes chest ache, fever and issue respiration. Acute chest syndrome will be attributable to a lung an infection or by sickle cells blocking blood vessels in your lungs. It would require emergency medical remedy with antibiotics and different remedies.
  • Pulmonary hypertension. Folks with sickle cell anemia can develop hypertension of their lungs (pulmonary hypertension). This complication often impacts adults moderately than kids. Shortness of breath and fatigue are frequent signs of this situation, which will be deadly.
  • Organ harm. Sickle cells that block blood circulation by means of blood vessels instantly deprive the affected organ of blood and oxygen. In sickle cell anemia, blood can also be chronically low on oxygen. Persistent deprivation of oxygen-rich blood can harm nerves and organs in your physique, together with your kidneys, liver and spleen. Organ harm will be deadly.
  • Blindness. Sickle cells can block tiny blood vessels that provide your eyes. Over time, this will harm the portion of the attention that processes visible photos (retina) and result in blindness.
  • Leg ulcers. Sickle cell anemia may cause open sores, known as ulcers, in your legs.
  • Gallstones. The breakdown of crimson blood cells produces a substance known as bilirubin. A excessive degree of bilirubin in your physique can result in gallstones.
  • Priapism. Males with sickle cell anemia can have painful, long-lasting erections, a situation known as priapism. As happens in different elements of the physique, sickle cells can block the blood vessels within the penis. This will harm the penis and result in impotence.


For those who carry the sickle cell trait, seeing a genetic counselor earlier than making an attempt to conceive might help you perceive your threat of getting a baby with sickle cell anemia. She or he may also clarify attainable remedies, preventive measures and reproductive choices.

Updated: February 27, 2018 — 12:25 pm

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