Sickle Cell Anemia


This disease is a disorder which affects the hemoglobin.  

People with this disorder have atypical hemoglobin molecules called hemoglobin S, which can change the shape of normal red blood cells into a sickle, or crescent, shape.  These abnormally shaped blood cells are called sickle cells.  Sickle cells are stiff and sticky. They can block blood flow in the blood vessels of the limbs and organs.  Blocked blood flow can cause pain and organ damage, and can also raise the risk for infection.


Causes of this disease are not having enough hemoglobin or red blood cells in your blood. The only way to attain this disease is genetically, and it is a lifelong disease.  


Sickle cell anemia is present at birth, but many infants don't show signs until 4 months of age.  Symptoms are shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, coldness in hands and feet, pale skin, and jaundice, which is a yellowish color of the skin or whites of the eyes.  Also, jolts of pain are felt through the entire body, and they are called sickle cell crises

Diagnostic Tests

To test this disease, blood tests are done to see if hemoglobin S is in the blood. To test if an unborn baby has sickle cell anemia, the amniotic fluid, which is the fluid around the baby in the womb, is tested.  


Since this disease originated in Africa, it is mostly African Americans that have this disease.  Approximately 70000 to 100000 have it in the US, and 3 million have the sickle trait.  

Can it be prevented?

It is impossible for this disease to be prevented, because it is inherited.

Risk Factors and Complications

The risk of having this disease depends on genetics.  If both parents carry the sickle cell gene, the baby will have the disease.  The gene is more common in families that come from Africa, India, Mediterranean countries, Saudi Arabia, the Caribbean islands, and South and Central America.  Complications are a stroke, acute chest syndrome, pulmonary hypertension, organ damage, blindness, skin ulcers, gallstones, and priapisms.  

Current treatment options

Sickle cell anemia does not have a widely available cure.  Treatment is to decrease pain, prevent infections, prevent organ damage, prevent strokes, and control complications.

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