Sickle cell anemia is caused by abnormal hemoglobin, which is the protein that allows oxygen to stick to red blood cells (RBC) and travel throughout the body.
This causes bone marrow to produce cells that are malformed. They don’t carry oxygen very well, and they die off very quickly, leaving the patient with a deficit of RBCs. Thus causing anemia. This rare disease affects African Americans in far greater numbers than any other population.
But what are the symptoms, apart from anemia?
- Among the major symptoms is pain in the chest, abdomen, and joints. Bone pain is also often reported. This is called a crisis. Some patients are lucky, and their pain is infrequent, while others suffer many episodes every year, some resulting in hospitalizations.
- Joint damage can result from sickle cell anemia, which is another reason this condition can’t be ignored.
- Fatigue is common because of the sickle-shaped cells.
- Another symptom is swelling in the hands and feet, as sickle cells block the blood flow to these extremities.
- Children with sickle cell anemia often experience delayed growth. The reason is without enough oxygen circulating throughout, the body, bone, and tissue don’t have an adequate supply to develop normally.
- Patients are also prone to more infections than other people.
- And the last symptom (although, there are more symptoms that aren’t touched on here) is vision problems. Sickle cells can clog up the tiny blood vessels to the eyes.
As anyone living with a rare disease knows, finding support is important. For a list of support group resources provided by the American Sickle Cell Anemia Association, click here.