Sickle cell disease is a condition in which red
blood cells are not shaped as they should be. Red blood cells look like round
discs. But in sickle cell disease, they're shaped like sickles, or crescent moons,
These sickle shaped cells get stuck together and block small blood vessels. This
stops blood from moving as it should, which can lead to pain and organ damage.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Sickle Cell Disease?
People with sickle cell disease can have pain crises. In a pain
The pain may last a few hours, a few days, or sometimes longer.
Sometimes pain can be managed at home. But someone with severe pain might need
treatment in a hospital.
People with sickle cell disease often have a low number of red blood cells, or
Signs of anemia include:
paleness, often seen in the skin, lips, or nailbeds
being short of breath
trouble paying attention
a fast heartbeat
People with sickle cell anemia may have jaundice (skin and whites of the eyes
look yellow). This happens because the sickle-shaped
red blood cells break down faster than normal cells.
What Problems Can Happen?
People with sickle cell disease can have problems that need immediate care by a
doctor, such as:
Acute chest syndrome: Caused by
, infection, and blockages of small blood vessels of the lung. Signs include
chest pain, coughing, trouble breathing, and fever.
Aplastic crisis: This is when the body temporarily does not make
enough red blood cells, and can cause severe anemia. Signs include paleness, extreme
tiredness, and a fast heartbeat.
Hand-foot syndrome: This painful
swelling of the fingers and toes (also called
) is the first sign of sickle cell anemia in some infants.
Infection: Kids with sickle cell disease are at risk for some
bacterial infections. It's important to watch for fevers of 101°F (38°C) or
higher, which can be signs of an infection. Get medical care right away if a fever
Priapism: Males with sickle cell disease can have painful, long-lasting
erections. If it's not treated quickly, damage can cause problems with getting erections
Splenic sequestration crises: The
traps the abnormal red blood cells and gets very large. This can lead
to a serious, quick drop in the number of red blood cells in the bloodstream. Signs
include paleness, weakness or extreme tiredness, an enlarged spleen, and belly pain.
Stroke: Sickle-shaped cells can block small blood vessels in
the brain, causing a stroke.
Signs include headache, seizures, weakness in the arms and legs, speech problems,
a facial droop, or loss of consciousness.
People with sickle cell disease are also at risk for problems such as leg ulcers,
bone or joint damage, gallstones, kidney damage, eye damage, and delayed growth.
What Causes Sickle Cell Disease?
Sickle cell disease is a genetic
condition. People who have it inherited certain hemoglobin genes from their parents.
Hemoglobin is the protein inside of red blood cells that carries oxygen. Abnormal
hemoglobin makes the red blood cells sickle shaped.
Someone who inherits a sickle cell gene from each parent has sickle cell disease.
Someone who inherits a sickle cell gene from one parent and a normal hemoglobin
gene from the other has
rather than sickle cell disease. Most people with sickle cell trait don't
have symptoms, but can pass the gene to their children.
Someone who inherits a sickle cell gene from one parent and another kind of abnormal
gene from the other parent may have a different form of sickle cell disease, such
as hemoglobin SC disease or sickle beta