Sickle cell anemia is a blood disorder that causes abnormally shaped red blood cells. Normal blood cells are disk-shaped with an indentation in the center, and they move smoothly through the blood vessels. But with sickle cell anemia, the body produces red blood cells that are shaped like a sickle, or crescent. These cells don’t move through the bloodstream as easily, and they tend to stick and clump together and cause other health complications.
Sickle cell anemia is just one of many forms of sickle cell disease. It is a condition that is passed along from parents to their children. The disease is more common in people of certain ethnicities, including blacks and Hispanics.
Symptoms and Complications
Sickle cell anemia symptoms include headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, jaundice or pale skin and cold hands and feet. Over time, the disease can lead to a number of complications related to blood circulation elsewhere in the body. These include stroke, pain and swelling in the hands and feet, high blood pressure in the lungs and retina damage in the eyes, among many others. Those with sickle cell anemia may also have a greater chance of getting infections, and a harder time getting rid of them.
Treatment of Sickle Cell Anemia
Most cases of sickle cell anemia cannot be cured, but blood and marrow stem cell transplants have been successful at doing so in a small number of people. More research is needed in this area. For most, the goal of treatment is to minimize symptoms and prevent complications. This is often done using a combination of medications that both directly treat the blood as well as the symptoms that a person might be experiencing. Blood transfusions are often used in many cases to prevent serious complications from sickle cell anemia.
SOURCE: U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood InstituteSources:What Is Sickle Cell Anemia?, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, 2013, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sca/printall-index.html, Accessed 10/2/13.