World Sickle Cell Day: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

sickle cell

On a day set aside to raise awareness for this life-threatening disease, we are bringing you some symptoms and treatment.

Sickle cell anaemia is an inherited form of anaemia — a condition in which there aren’t enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen throughout your body. Normally, your red blood cells are flexible and round, moving easily through your blood vessels. In sickle cell anaemia, the red blood cells become rigid and sticky and are shaped like sickles or crescent moons. These irregularly shaped cells can get stuck in small blood vessels, which can slow or block blood flow and oxygen to parts of the body.

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There’s no cure for most people with sickle cell anaemia. But treatments can relieve pain and help prevent problems associated with the disease.

Below are some possible Symptoms Of Sickle Cell Anaemia

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

Episodes of Pain

Periodic episodes of pain, called crises, are a major symptom of sickle cell anaemia. 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 anaemia also have chronic pain, which can result from bone and joint damage, ulcers and other causes.

Painful Swelling Of Hands and Feet

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

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Frequent Infections

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 anaemia vaccinations and antibiotics to prevent potentially life-threatening infections, such as pneumonia.


Delayed Growth

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.



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

Stroke. 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.

Acute chest syndrome. 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.

Organ damage. Sickle cells that block blood flow through blood vessels immediately deprive the affected organ of blood and oxygen. In sickle cell anaemia, 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.

Blindness. 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.

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

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

Priapism. Men with sickle cell anaemia 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.

So for the treatments available, there is no definite treatment.

  •  Patients with this condition should have additional folic acid and protection from pneumonia in the form of a vaccine and antibiotic prophylaxis.
  •  Hydroxyurea can significantly benefit patients suffering from this disease in reducing or eliminating the requirement for blood transfusion, reduction in painful episodes and decrease in the risk of stroke and other complications associated with the disease.
  •  The only curative treatment of the disease is Allogeneic Bone Marrow Transplant, which has a very high success rate. If there is Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) matched donor in the family, then that donor is preferred the most. However, if there is no matched family donor, a potential donor can be searched from the Bone Marrow Donor Registries. This is referred to as Matched Unrelated Donor transplant.

Now you know what and how to treat a Sickle cell patient or figure out some symptoms.

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