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Sickle cell anemia is a genetic disease of the red blood cells (RBCs) that affects hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen through the body. In normal cases, the round and flexible RBCs move through the blood vessels easily. In sickle cell anemia, these red blood cells are in the shape of crescent moons or sickles. These sticky and rigid cells often get stuck in small blood vessels causing the blood flow and oxygen flow to slow or block. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for sickle cell anemia. However, there are ways to avoid risk factors associated with the disorder and relieve pain. Typical signs of this disorder appear when a child is around five months old. Over time, the symptoms can change. Here are a few symptoms that one must look out for: Pain - One of the major signs of sickle cell anemia is pain crises, periodic episodes of pain. The sickle-shaped RBCs block the blood flow to the chest,
abdomen, and joints, causing pain. The pain can vary in intensity and lasts for a couple of hours or weeks. Delayed growth - The RBCs provide the body with the required nutrients and oxygen needed for growth. If the body doesn’t have enough RBCs, it can slow
the growth down. Some have few pain crises in a year while others have a dozen. Some adults with the conditions also have chronic pain that can result in
ulcers, bone, and joint damage. Swollen feet and hands - The blood flow is blocked to the feet and hands that can cause swelling. Anemia - Since sickle cells easily break apart and die, the patient will have few red blood cells. The lifespan of red blood cells is 120 days after which they
have to be replaced. In the case of sickle cell anemia, the cells die in 10 to 20 days. Without enough RBCs in the body, there won’t be enough oxygen resulting
in fatigue. Frequent infections - Since sickle cells damage the spleen, it leaves the patient vulnerable to infections. Children with this condition have to take
vaccinations and antibiotics for preventing any life-threatening infection like pneumonia.
If a person has sickle cell anemia, they need to look out for some signs of complications which include fever, unexplained episodes of pain, abdominal swelling, yellow tint, and signs of stroke. If a child experience any of the above-mentioned signs, it is crucial to consult a specialist at the Rainbow Children’s Hospital right away and get the conditions diagnosed through newborn screening programs.
Consultant Child and Adolescent Neurologist
Rainbow Children's Hospital, Banjara Hills