Skip to content

Sickle Cell Disease

Font Size

What Happens

Normal red blood cells have a 120-day life span. But people born with sickle cell disease have sickle-shaped camera.gif blood cells that usually live no more than 20 days. These sickled cells can get stuck in blood vessels, blocking blood flow camera.gif.

Less blood flow can damage the body's organs, muscles, and bones, sometimes leading to life-threatening conditions. Sickle cell disease may cause problems such as:

When a child is born with sickle cell disease, it's impossible to predict which problems will develop, when they will start, or how bad they will be. During the first 6 months of life, infants have a high level of fetal hemoglobin (HbF) in their blood, which protects them from red blood cell sickling. But dangerous complications of sickle cell disease may quickly develop between ages 6 months and 5 years, after levels of fetal hemoglobin decrease.

Older children and adults with sickle cell disease may have few problems. Or they may have a pattern of ongoing complications that shortens their lives. The most common and serious problems caused by sickle cell disease are anemia, pain, and organ failure. Stroke affects around 10 out of 100 children who have sickle cell disease.1

Other complications of sickle cell disease include:

  • Growth slowdown. Children who have sickle cell disease often grow more slowly than normal and go through puberty later than children who don't have the disease.
  • Open sores (ulcers) on the legs and feet, commonly during adulthood. These ulcers can be very painful and heal slowly. Some may last for years.
  • Eye damage. Long-term vision problems may result from blocked blood flow in the inner lining of the eye (retina).
  • A lung problem called pulmonary hypertension where blood pressure is very high in the lungs.
1

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
Next Article:

Hot Topics

WebMD Video: Now Playing

Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

feet
Solutions for 19 types.
MS Overview
Recognizing symptoms.
pregnancy test and calendar
Helping you get pregnant.
man rubbing painful knee
A visual guide.
lone star tick
How to identify that bite.
woman standing behind curtains
How it affects you.
brain scan with soda
Tips to avoid complications.
row of colored highlighter pens
Tips for living better.
human lungs
Symptoms, causes, treatments.
woman dreaming
What Do Your Dreams Say About You?
two male hands
Test your knowledge.

Women's Health Newsletter

Find out what women really need.