Signs and Symptoms

    There are many symptoms of sickle cell anemia, but they are usually thought of as a different condition.  Some of these symptoms may be severe, and cause the person to be hospitalized.  Others aren't so severe.  Below is a list of common symptoms taken from two sites.  Click here to go to the first link and here to go to the second link. 

"The most common symptom of anemia is fatigue (feeling tired or weak). Other signs and symptoms of anemia may include:
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Coldness in the hands and feet
  • Paler than normal skin or mucous membranes (the tissue that lines your nose, mouth, and other organs and body cavities)
  • Jaundice (a yellowish color of the skin or whites of the eyes)

Sudden pain throughout the body is a common symptom of sickle cell anemia. This pain is called a sickle cell crisis. Sickle cell crises often affect the bones, lungs, abdomen, and joints.

These crises occur when sickle red blood cells block blood flow to the limbs and organs. This can cause pain and organ damage.

The pain from sickle cell anemia can be acute or chronic, but acute pain is more common. Acute pain is sudden and can range from mild to very severe. The pain usually lasts from hours to as long as a week or more.

Many people who have sickle cell anemia also have chronic pain, especially in their bones. Chronic pain often lasts for weeks or months and can be hard to bear and mentally draining. Chronic pain may limit your daily activities.

Almost all people who have sickle cell anemia have painful crises at some point in their lives. Some have these crises less than once a year. Others may have crises once a month or more. Repeated crises can damage the bones, kidneys, lungs, eyes, heart, and liver. This type of damage happens more often in adults than in children.

Many factors can play a role in sickle cell crises. Often, more than one factor is involved and the exact cause isn't known.

You can control some factors. For example, the risk of a sickle cell crisis increases if you're dehydrated (your body doesn't have enough fluids). Drinking plenty of fluids can lower the risk of a painful crisis.

You can't control other factors, such as infections.

Painful crises are the leading cause of emergency room visits and hospital stays for people who have sickle cell anemia.

"In infants, symptoms do not usually appear until late in the baby's first year. Most commonly, they include:
  • Fever
  • Swelling of the hands and feet
  • Pain in the chest, abdomen, limbs, and joints
  • Nosebleeds and frequent upper respiratory infections
General Symptoms in Children. Pain is the most common complaint. It can be acute and severe or chronic, usually from orthopedic problems in the legs and low back. Other symptoms include:
  • Fatigue and shortness of breath (signs of anemia)
  • Irritability
  • Jaundice (yellowish discoloration of the skin and eyes)
Additional Symptoms in Adolescence or Adulthood. Symptoms of childhood continue in adolescence and adulthood. In addition, patients may experience:
  • Delayed puberty (in young teenagers)
  • Severe joint pain
  • Progressive anemia
  • Leg sores
  • Gum disease
  • Vision problems"

    So, as shown here, there are many symptoms for all ages.  Some of them are painless, like vision problems and delayed puberty, but others are so severe, the person with this disease becomes hospitalized.  One painful symptom is crises.  This is severe pain all over the body.  Someone may think that it was a common injury or painful cut. Severe pain will often result in many costly hospital visits, so get diagnosed before panicking multiple times.

The Effect of Sickle Cell Disease on Other Body Systems

    Sickle cells block blood vessels, therefore decreasing the amount of oxygen that reaches the body. Oxygen is a needed "food" for body cells within the tissues that make up a body system. The lack of oxygen because of the sickle cell blockage can hurt tissues, part of any body system, or bodily functions.
    Having the sickle cell disease increases your chance of getting infections because the sickle cells, over time, clog the spleen. Therefore the lymphatic system is effected badly. Since the spleen produces white blood cells, the lymphatic system is shut down. The immune system is also weakened because bacteria is able to enter the body. Bone crisis can occur in the humerus, tibia, and femur. The sickle cells cause this dysfunction of the skeletal system. Acute chest syndrome results because of sickle cell disease. This effects the lungs, therefore the respiratory system. Coughing of blood is a common symptom of crisis occurring in the lungs. The central nervous system can be effected through strokes. 10% of sickle cell subjects have strokes or bleeding in the brain when younger than 8-10 yrs. Strokes by the hand of sickle cells are very harmful. Eyes, therefore the senses, can also be effected because the narrowness of the eye's capillaries. Also the water-like fluid in the eye promotes sickling and loss of eyesight. Kidney damage occurs in all people with sickle cell disease. This damages urination, excretion, and the cleanliness of blood. Sickle cells can cause anemia which is decreased red blood cell production.