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What are the Signs and Symptoms of Sickle Cell Disease?


Signs and Symptoms of Sickle Cell Disease

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Sickle Cell Disease?

The signs and symptoms of sickle cell disease usually surface when the patients are still quite young. The symptoms may show up in babies at the early age of 4 months though they generally occur at a 5 to 6-month mark.

There are many types of SCD with similar symptoms that vary in terms of severity. Here are the most common symptoms of SCD:


Sickle cells usually break apart quite easily and die. This leaves your body with insufficient red blood cells. Red blood cells typically live for around 120 days before the need for replacement. However, sickle cells typically die in only about 10 to 20 days, leaving the patient’s body with a red blood cell deficiency, a condition called anaemia.

Note that when you do not have enough red blood cells, your body will have insufficient oxygen, resulting in excessive fatigue.

Episodes of Pain

Frequent episodes of pain also known as pain crisis are a key symptom of sickle cell anaemia. When sickle-shaped red blood cells obstruct the proper flow of blood through tiny blood vessels to your abdomen, chest, and joints, pain develops. This recurrent pain can also develop in your bones.

Remember that this pain varies in severity or intensity and goes on between a few hours and a few weeks. Certain SCD patients only experience a few pain crisis per year. For others, the pain crisis occurs a dozen or more times a year. Spending some time in hospital is necessary in times of severe pain crisis.

The chronic pain some adolescents and adults living with sickle cell anaemia experience is caused by ulcers, joint and bone damage, etc.

Swelling of Feet and Hands

The swelling is as a result of sickle-shaped red blood cells that block proper blood circulation to the patient’s hands and feet.

Frequent Infections

Your spleen can be damaged by sickle cells, making your body more vulnerable to infections. That’s why doctors usually treat infants and children that have sickle cell disease with SCD vaccinations and antibiotics. This prevents them from potentially life-threatening infections such as pneumonia.

Delayed Growth

With enough red blood cells (RBCs), your body gets the oxygen and nutrients it naturally needs for growth. When infants and children have less healthy red blood cells, they experience slow or delayed growth and hence delayed puberty in teenagers.

Vision Problems

People with SCD can experience a situation in which the tiny blood vessels responsible for supplying their eyes with blood can be plugged with sickle cells. If this happens, your retina can be damaged. The retina is the part of the eye that processes visual images.

When Should You See a Doctor

Typically, sickle cell anaemia is diagnosed in infants via newborn screening programs. Seeing a doctor on time is highly advisable. Some of the symptoms of SCD that should make you rush to see your doctor also include, fever, pale skin, yellow tint to the skin, symptoms of stroke, etc. If you and your children or someone you are taking care of develops any of the signs and symptoms discussed above, do not hesitate to see your doctor or seek emergency medical care.





Photo of the Remarkables mountain range in Queenstown, New Zealand.

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