Sickle cell anaemia or sickle cell disease is a group of blood disorders that are usually passed from a parent to a child. However, most infants don’t show any signs until they are more than 4 months old.
It occurs when you inherit two abnormal copies of the haemoglobin gene, one from each parent. It causes red blood cells to become misshapen and break down.
There are 4 types of sickle cell disease, the most common type is known as sickle cell anaemia.
In a healthy individual, your red blood cells are flexible and round, moving easily through your blood vessels. In sickle cell anaemia, the red blood cells become rigid and sticky and are shaped like sickles or crescent moons.
These irregularly shaped cells can get stuck in small blood vessels, which can slow or block blood flow and oxygen to parts of the body.
Symptoms of sickle cell anaemia
If you have sickle cell disease, your chances of having anaemia are very high, this occurs when your haemoglobin in the blood is low. This can lead to a sudden drop in the number of red blood cells and may cause additional symptoms such as headaches, a rapid heartbeat, dizziness and fainting. It’s usually treated with a blood transfusion.
Haemoglobin is the substance found in red blood cells that is used to transport oxygen around the body.
2. Episodes of pain
These are known as sickle cell crises and are one of the most common and distressing symptoms of sickle cell disease. They occur when blood vessels to part of the body become blocked.
Commonly affected areas include hands or feet (particularly in young children), ribs and breastbone, spine, pelvis, stomach, legs and arms
3. Painful swelling of hands and feet
When sickle-shaped red blood cells block blood vessels in the hands or feet, it causes the hands and feet to swell. It can also cause leg ulcers. Swollen hands and feet are often the first sign of sickle cell anaemia in babies.
4. Frequent infections
Because of their compromised immune system, people with sickle cell anaemia suffer from many Infections. This may ranges from mild (such as colds), to much more serious and potentially life-threatening (such as meningitis).
5. Delayed growth
Children with sickle cell anaemia suffer from delayed growth in height and weight.They also reach puberty and sexual maturation later than other healthy children.
6. Vision problems
Tiny blood vessels that supply your eyes may become plugged with sickle cells. This can damage the retina- the portion of the eye that processes visual images, leading to vision problems.
It can cause blurred or patchy vision, reduced night vision and occasionally sudden vision loss
This is a persistent and painful erection of the penis, which can sometimes last several hours. It can cause permanent damage to your penis if not treated quickly.
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