Sickle cell disease changes normal, round red
blood cells into cells that can be shaped like crescent moons. The name "sickle
cell" comes from the crescent shape of the cells. (A sickle is a tool with
a crescent-shaped blade.)
Normal red blood
cells move easily through your blood vessels, taking oxygen to every part of
your body. But sickled cells can get stuck and block blood vessels, which stops
the oxygen from getting through. That can cause a lot of pain. It can also harm
organs, muscles, and bones.
See a picture of
sickle cells blocking a blood vessel .
Having sickle cell disease
means a lifelong battle against the health problems it can cause, such as pain,
stroke. But many people are able to have a very good
quality of life by learning to manage the disease.
disease is inherited, which means it is passed from parent to child. To get
sickle cell disease, a child has to inherit two sickle cell
genes—one from each parent.
When a child
inherits the gene from just one parent, that child has
sickle cell trait. Having this trait means that you don't have the disease but you are a
carrier and could pass the gene on to your
Painful events (sickle cell crises) are the most common symptom of sickle cell disease. They
are periods of pain that happen when sickled cells get stuck in blood vessels
and block the blood flow. These events usually cause pain in the hands, feet,
belly, back, or chest. The pain may last for hours or for days.
People with sickle cell disease often have anemia, caused by a shortage
of red blood cells. Anemia makes you feel weak and tired. People with sickle
cell anemia may look pale or washed out. Their skin and the whites of their
eyes may have a yellowish look (jaundice).
A simple blood test can show whether a
person has sickle cell disease. Most states test for sickle cell disease before
infants go home from the hospital.