Symptoms of sickle cell disease may be noticed as soon as 4 months of age, or it may go undetected until later in the baby’s first year of life.
Oxygen deprivation is a result of blood vessels that are blocked by the misshapen red blood cells of sickle cell anemia. Periods of acute oxygen deprivation cause severely painful episodes called pain crises. The location of the pain and the types of symptoms depend on what tissues or organs of the body have been deprived of oxygen.
Symptoms of sickle cell disease include: FeverSwollen hands and feet
Enlarged organs, including:
Increased risk of infection, especially
Symptoms of anemia, including:
Severe fatigueHeadacheLightheadednessShortness of breathYellowish tone to the whites of the eyes and the skin—jaundice
Episodes of sickle cell crisis, including:
Severe chest painShortness of breathSevere abdominal painSevere bone painNauseaFever
In males, painful, prolonged erections of the penis which may result in
Other medical conditions that can result from sickle cell disease include: Leg soresGum diseaseDamage to the retina of the eye, resulting in vision lossEnlargement of the heart due to chronic anemiaHeart attackHeart failureKidney infectionsKidney damage and eventual failureBone infections or infarctionsGallbladder diseaseSpleen damage and destruction, resulting in an increased risk of certain infectionsStrokeAbnormal bone growthDelayed pubertyLearning and behavior problems in children who have had severe, chronic oxygen deprivation of the brainAplastic crisis or red cell aplasia
Sickle cell crisis can be provoked by certain triggers, including: SmokingExerciseTravel to high altitudesDrops in oxygen or changes in air pressure that can occur during airplane travelFeverInfectionDehydration
Sickle cell disease. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at:
http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/sickle-cell-anemia.html. Updated September 2012. Accessed July 1, 2013.
What are the signs and symptoms of sickle cell disease?
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
website. Available at:
Updated September 28, 2012. Accessed July 1, 2013.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
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