Signs that a baby has sickle cell disease (SCD) won’t begin showing until the baby is 5 months old. That’s the time fewer red blood cells in the infant or toddler reveals lack of oxygen and provokes symptoms such as the following:
Anemia is not only a symptom of sickle cell disease in babies but the most common symptom. Anemia comes from the presence of fewer red blood cells. A child with anemia can appear pale and tired.
Pain crisis, or sickle crisis
These kind of severe pains happen when crescent-shaped red blood cells move through small blood vessels and get stuck, causing severe pain in that body part. Pain episodes or pain crisis can occur in any body part though it happens mostly in the legs, arms, and chest. For infants and toddlers, the pain may target their fingers and also cause toes to swell.
Blocked blood flow may also lead to tissue death. And when your baby is dehydrated, stressed or exposed to cold, it may cause pain crisis. Pain crisis can take hours or even days and may require hospitalization.
Yellowing of the eyes, skin, and mouth
This symptom is called jaundice. When the red blood cells die, a substance referred to as bilirubin gets released.
Unlike normal red blood cells, sickle cells live for a very short time and die before the liver can filter them out.
Acute chest syndrome
This sign occurs when sickle cells stick together and obstruct the flow of oxygen in the tiny vessels in a child’s lungs. It can be a deadly syndrome that occurs suddenly, when conditions like an infection, fever, or fluid loss has put a child’s body under stress. It is similar to pneumonia and can come with pain, fever, and a violent cough.
Splenic sequestration (pooling)
When sickle cells get stuck and build up in the spleen, it gets enlarged and painful. The results can be a sudden drop in hemoglobin. Splenic sequestration can be deadly if a baby or adult experiencing it doesn’t get the right treatment immediately.
Other symptoms of sickle cell disease in children are delayed growth and retinal damage which can cause vision impairment.
Newborn Screening for Sickle Cell Anemia (Hb SS)
If your baby gets an out-of-normal-range result for a newborn screening sickle cell anemia (Hb SS), your baby’s doctor or the state screening program will arrange for an additional (confirmatory) testing. If your baby has the condition (Hb SS), they will have a large number of sickle or crescent shaped red blood cells rather than donut-shaped ones, which are normal.
Note that symptoms of SCD may appear like other disorders or health problems. So, it is better to see your child’s healthcare provider for a diagnosis.