About This Condition
Anemia is a deficiency of the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells. Sickle cell anemia is an inherited chronic anemia in which the red blood cells become sickle or crescent-shaped. The symptoms of sickle cell anemia are caused by the clogging of small blood vessels by the sickle cells or by poor delivery of oxygen to the tissues due to the anemia itself.
A sickle cell crisis is a painful episode that occurs when the body becomes severely deprived of oxygen. The disease and the trait occur in people of African descent, as well as in people from Mediterranean countries, India, and the Middle East, but rarely in people of European descent.
Symptoms include fatigue, joint and abdominal pain, irritability, yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes, leg sores, gum disease, frequent respiratory infections, blindness later in life, and periods of prolonged, sometimes painful erections in males. People with sickle cell anemia can have episodes of severe pain in the arms, legs, chest, and abdomen that may be accompanied by fever, nausea, and difficulty breathing. These symptoms occur only in people who inherit copies of the sickle cell gene from both parents. People who inherit a sickle cell gene from only one parent have what is known as sickle cell trait and are without symptoms.
Healthcare practitioners typically advise people with sickle cell anemia to avoid high altitudes, to maintain an adequate fluid intake, and to receive vaccinations. Occasionally bone marrow transplants are recommended.