Sickle Cell Anemia
Sickle cell anemia is a genetic disorder. It alters the shape of the red blood cells (RBCs). This decreases their ability to carry oxygen. It can also cause acute episodes of pain. These are called a sickle cell crisis. The body will also destroy the sickle cells. The loss of RBCs results in anemia.
The change in the ability and number of RBCs can decrease the amount of oxygen for the body.
Red Blood Cells: Normal and Sickle
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
RBCs are normally soft and round. This helps them move easily through the blood vessels. A main building block of the RBC is hemoglobin.
People with sickle cell anemia have an abnormal type of hemoglobin. It causes the RBCs to become hard and sickle-shaped. Because of their odd shape, some of the cells get stuck in the small blood vessels. There they break apart. The broken parts can cause blockages in the vessels. This can happen in a blood vessel that leads to a major organ. The decreased blood flow can cause severe pain and organ damage.
The body also recognizes that sickled cells are abnormal. The body will destroy them faster than they can be replaced. This causes anemia especially under the following conditions:
- Drop in oxygen or change in air pressure (sometimes occurs during airplane travel)
Last reviewedSeptember 2012by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.