Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of sickle cell anemia, which vary from person to person and change over time, can include:

Sickle cells break apart easily and die, leaving you without enough 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 the oxygen it needs to feel energized, causing fatigue.

. Periodic episodes of pain, called 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 episodes. Others have a dozen or more crises a year. If a crisis is severe enough, you might need to be hospitalized.

Some adolescents and adults with sickle cell anemia also have chronic pain, which can result from bone and joint damage, ulcers and other causes.

The swelling is caused by sickle-shaped red blood cells blocking blood flow to the hands and feet.

Sickle cells can damage an organ that fights infection (spleen), leaving you more vulnerable to infections. Doctors commonly give infants and children with sickle cell anemia vaccinations and antibiotics to prevent potentially life-threatening infections, such as pneumonia.

Red blood cells provide your body with the oxygen and nutrients you need for growth. A shortage of healthy red blood cells can slow growth in infants and children and delay puberty in teenagers.

Tiny blood vessels that supply your eyes may become plugged with sickle cells. This can damage the retina — the portion of the eye that processes visual images, leading to vision problems.

Complications

Sickle cell anemia can lead to a host of complications, including:

A stroke can occur if sickle cells block blood flow to an area of your brain. Signs of stroke include seizures, weakness or numbness of your arms and legs, sudden speech difficulties, and loss of consciousness. If your baby or child has any of these signs and symptoms, seek medical treatment immediately. A stroke can be fatal.

Without enough red blood cells, your body can’t get the oxygen it needs to feel energized, causing fatigue.

This life-threatening complication causes chest pain, fever and difficulty breathing. Acute chest syndrome can be caused by a lung infection or by sickle cells blocking blood vessels in your lungs. It might require emergency medical treatment with antibiotics and other treatments.

People with sickle cell anemia can develop high blood pressure in their lungs (pulmonary hypertension). This complication usually affects adults rather than children. Shortness of breath and fatigue are common symptoms of this condition, which can be fatal.

Sickle cells that block blood flow through blood vessels immediately deprive the affected organ of blood and oxygen. In sickle cell anemia, blood is also chronically low on oxygen. Chronic deprivation of oxygen-rich blood can damage nerves and organs in your body, including your kidneys, liver and spleen. Organ damage can be fatal.

Sickle cells can block tiny blood vessels that supply your eyes. Over time, this can damage the portion of the eye that processes visual images (retina) and lead to blindness.

Sickle cell anemia can cause open sores, called ulcers, on your legs.

The breakdown of red blood cells produces a substance called bilirubin. A high level of bilirubin in your body can lead to gallstones.

Men with sickle cell anemia can have painful, long-lasting erections, a condition called priapism. As occurs in other parts of the body, sickle cells can block the blood vessels in the penis. This can damage the penis and lead to impotence.

Cure

The only cure for Sickle Cell Disease is a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. Bone marrow is a soft, fatty tissue inside the center of the bones where blood cells are made. A bone marrow or stem cell transplant is a procedure that takes healthy cells that form blood from one person—the donor—and puts them into someone whose bone marrow is not working properly.

Bone marrow or stem cell transplants can be very risky, and can have serious side effects, including death. For the transplant to work, the bone marrow must be a close match. Usually, the best donor is a brother or sister. Bone marrow or stem cell transplants are often used only in cases of severe SCD for children who have minimal organ damage from the disease. Please discuss your options with your doctor.

Copyright © 2015. KJ’s Hope.