Let us first know about Sickle cell anemia, this is a group of blood disorders known as sickle cell disease. The Sickle cell disease is an inherited(from parents)red blood cell disorder in which there are not enough healthy RBCs to carry oxygen throughout a human body.
Normally, in general conditions, the flexible, round red blood cells move swiftly through blood vessels. In sickle cell anemia disease, the red blood are shaped like sickles or like a crescent moon. These rigid, sticky cells can get stick in small blood vessels which can slower or even block blood flow and O2 from flowing to other parts of the body.
Signs & symptoms of sickle cell anemia usually appear around 5-6 months of age. They vary one person to another and change over the time. Signs and symptoms can include the following:
Anemia– Sickle cells break apart easily and they die, leaving you with too less red blood cells. RBCs usually live for about 120 days before replacement. But these sickle cells usually die in 10-20 days, creating a shortage of red blood cells (anemia).
Without sufficient red blood cells, your body can not get enough oxygen, causing fatigue.
Episodes of pain– Periodic episodes of pain which are called pain crises, is a major symptom of sickle cell anemia. Pain develops when sickle shape red blood cells block or reduce the blood flow through tiny blood vessels to the chest, abdomen and to joints. Pain can also occur in the bones.
The pain varies and this can last for a few hours to few days or to few weeks. Some people have only a few episodes of pain crises in a year. Others may have a dozen or more pain crises a whole year. A severe pain crisis requires stay in the hospital to manage the pain.
Some adolescents & adults with sickle cell anemia disease also get chronic pain which can result bone and joint damage and ulcers.
Swelling of hands & the feet– The swelling is caused by sickle shape RBCs blocking the blood flow to the hands and to the feet.
Frequent infections – These Sickle cells can damage your spleen, leaving you more exposed to any types of infection. Doctors commonly prescribe infants and children with sickle cell anemia vaccinations & antibiotics to prevent the potentially life threatening infection which is pneumonia.
Delayed growth/puberty– RBCs provide your body with the oxygen (O2) and nutrients needed for your growth. A shortage of healthy red blood cells can reduce or slow down the growth in infants & children and may also delay puberty in teenagers.
Vision Issue– Small blood vessels that supply blood to your eyes can become plugged with these sickle cells. This can damage the retina of the eyes, the portion of the eye that makes and processes visual images and leads to vision problems.
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When should you see the Doctor?
Sickle cell anemia is usually diagnosed in the stage of infancy through newborn screening programs that are run worldwide at all small or big hospitals. If you or your child develops any of the following issues, Please see a doctor right away or you may seek emergency medical care.
Fever- People with sickle cell anemia disease may have an increased risk of serious infection, and fever/high temperature which can be the first sign of an infection.
- Unexplained episodes of severe pain such as the pain in abdomen, chest, bones and the joints.
- Swelling in the hands or the feet.
- Abdominal swelling, specially if this area is tender to the touch it.
- Pale skin or the nail beds.
- Yellow tint to skin or whites of your eyes.
Signs or symptoms of stroke- If you notice one-sided paralysis or feeling weakness in the face, arms or the legs, confusion, trouble in walking or talking, drastic vision changes or numbness, severe headache. Contact your local doctor incase any of these symptoms.
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