Sickle cell anemia symptoms can be mild or quite severe. Therefore, it can take a while before one realizes that they have it. Sickle cell anemia is a type of sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disease causes the red blood cells to change shape from its usual donut shape (without the hole in the centre) to a crescent shape. The abnormally shaped cells are sticky and stiff. This is due to lowered oxygen levels, higher acidity, or a lower than usual volume of blood. The cells increase the risk of blocking the flow of blood which can cause some pain and damage in the organs.
Anemia is a medical term used to describe a lower than normal count of red blood cells. Anemia can also be present in people whose red blood cells don’t carry enough hemoglobin.
Sickle cell anemia is an inherited and is present at birth. However, it typically takes a few months before it is diagnosed. Anemia is one main sign of having sickle cell disease. The abnormally shapped cells are so delicate that they break and die easily. Normal cells tend to live for over 100 days, whereas sickle cells live around 10-20 days. This causes the body to be constantly short of red blood cells. The body is unable to replenish them fast enough, which causes a lack of oxygen to the cells.
Below are sickle cell anemia symptoms that you might not have been aware of.
1. The lack of oxygen causes the individual to feel fatigue.
2. Another very common symptom is pain. The pain usually comes periodically and is known as “crisis”. The pain occurs when the sticky cells block the flow of blood in tiny blood vessels (to the abdomen, joints, or chest). The pain can vary depending on the individual. Some feel minor pain, while others experience so much pain that they end up in the hospital. Some individuals only experience a few crisis in their lifetime, whereas others experience multiple per year.
3. Leg ulcers. Individuals who are suffering from sickle cell anemia are more prone to ulcers and skin breakdown due to the lack of blood flow. Leg ulcers tend to happen in adults in their ankles or lower sides of their legs. The ulcers may become chronic and resistant to antibiotic treatment,
4. Another symptom is experiencing frequent infections. This type of anemia can affect the spleen, an organ that assists in fighting off germs. Young children are more likely to develop a serious illness, therefore doctors will likely administer vaccines to protect them against certain diseases.
5. Normal functioning red blood cells are needed in the body to provide oxygen and nutrients for growth. Sickle cell anemia can slow growth in children and postpone puberty in teenagers.
6. Also, some people with anemia can also experience problems with their vision. The sticky cells can block the flow of blood to the eyes, which can cause damage to the retina. This can result in partial or complete blindness.
7. Death of bone tissue (bone infarction) or localized bone death (aseptic necrosis) can occur when there is not enough oxygen supplied to the bones. All bones are at risk of bone death, but the most common bones affected are those located in the arms, legs, and thighs. The death of bone tissues can permanently damage joints.
Unfortunately, there is no treatment for sickle cell anemia. Those with this condition have a lower life expectancy. Some individuals do not survive past childhood, but there are cases where some individuals live up until their forties. There are current treatments to help alleviate the sickle cell anemia symptoms.
Sickle Cell Anemia: Symptoms and Treatment YouTube clip