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Sickle Cell Anemia: Causes, Symptoms and Diagnosis

Sickle cell anemia, also known as sickle cell disease (SCD), is an inherited blood disorder that causes red blood cells to be shaped like sickles or crescents instead of the typical disc shape. These cells are rigid and sticky, and they can get stuck in blood vessels and block blood flow. Thi might lead to numerous complications including pain and infections in the arms, legs, kidneys, brain, or other organs. For this reason, it’s extremely important to be diagnosed with SCD early on and receive proper treatment.

Causes of Sickle Cell Disease

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The exact cause of sickle cell anemia isn’t known. What scientists do know is that people with sickle cell anemia have two genes, or DNA sequences, for hemoglobin—one normal and one abnormal. This means that instead of making a healthy type of hemoglobin, your body makes both types in a single red blood cell. The red blood cells then assume an irregular shape (referred to as sickling) and make it difficult for those cells to move through narrow vessels and capillaries. The result is severe pain and organ damage throughout your body over time.

Symptoms of Sickle Cell Anemia

The symptoms of sickle cell can vary greatly from person to person, depending on how severe your case of SCA is. Some people who have SCA may experience a few mild symptoms that never get in their way, while others can be debilitated by extreme pain and fatigue. The most common symptoms include:

 • Chronic pain in joints and muscles 

• Unexplained pain in your chest, stomach or back 

• Fatigue/low energy levels 

• Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing

Diagnosis of Sickle Cell Disease

People can have blood tests to check for sickle cell anemia and other forms of sickle cell disease. A doctor might do a blood test or some other tests, such as a urine test. A diagnosis of sickle cell anemia begins with a patient’s family medical history.

Early Treatments can help ease symptoms and keep your body healthy. Medications can help ease symptoms of sickle cell disease, such as pain. If you have chronic leg pain from ulcers, for example, your doctor may prescribe a medication that will reduce swelling. This will allow you to put less stress on areas that are painful. Another common treatment involves getting transfusions of healthy red blood cells.

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