Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

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: October 01, 2012
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

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

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

tea
What you should eat.
Woman sitting in front of UV lights
Is yours working?
woman using breath spray
What's causing yours?
colon xray
Get the facts.
MS Overview
Recognizing symptoms.
bowl of yogurt with heart shape
Eat for a healthy heart.
woman doing pushups
To help you get fit.
Colored x-ray of tooth decay
Know what to look for.
Woman sitting with child
Do you know the symptoms?
fruit drinks
Foods that can help you focus.
Sad dog and guacamole
Don't feed this to your dog.
Thyroid exam
See how much you know.

Women's Health Newsletter

Find out what women really need.