Sickle Cell Anemia

(Sickle Cell Disease)

Definition

Sickle cell anemia is a genetic disorder. It alters the shape of the red blood cells (RBCs). This decreases their ability to carry oxygen. It can also cause acute episodes of pain. These are called a sickle cell crisis. The body will also destroy the sickle cells. The loss of RBCs results in anemia . The change in the ability and number of RBCs can decrease the amount of oxygen for the body.
Red Blood Cells: Normal and Sickle
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Causes

Sickle cell disease is a genetic disorder. If you receive one defective gene from each of your parents, then you will have sickle cell disease. If you only have one defective gene, you are said to have sickle cell trait, but not sickle cell disease. Although you won’t usually have any symptoms, you can pass this gene on to your children.

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your chance for sickle cell anemia include:
  • Race: Blacks of sub-Saharan origin
  • Ethnicity: Greeks, Italians, and people from some parts of India, Central and South America, and the Arabian Peninsula

Symptoms

This condition produces a group of symptoms known as a sickle cell crisis. These are episodes of pain that occur with varying frequency and severity. It is usually followed by periods of remission. The risk for a sickle cell crisis increases with any activity that boosts the body's requirement for oxygen. This may include illness, physical or emotional stress, or high altitudes.These painful crises can last hours or days. They affect the bones of the back, the long bones, and the chest. The crises can be severe enough to require hospital admission for pain control and IV fluids.Symptoms of sickle cell crisis include:
  • Pain and swelling in the hands and feet
  • Fever
  • Jaundice
  • Pale skin color
  • Chest pain, or episodic pain in joints, abdomen, or back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Unusual or prolonged headache
  • Any sudden weakness or loss of sensation
  • Prolonged erection
  • Sudden vision changes
  • Sudden, severe anemia can cause:
    • Weakness
    • Shortness of breath
    • Loss of consciousness
Complications of sickle cell anemia include:
  • Destruction of the spleen
  • Severe bacterial infections:
  • Damage to the joints, especially hip and shoulder
  • Gallstones
  • Damage to eyes, resulting in impaired vision
  • Stroke or other neurological impairment
  • Seizures
  • Liver disease
  • High rate of hepatitis C
  • Damage to penis, due to prolonged erection, which may result in impotence
  • Leg ulcers
  • Heart murmurs or enlarged heart
  • Delayed growth
  • Delayed sexual development
  • Problems with thinking, memory, and performance
  • Aplastic crisis or transient red cell aplasia

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