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