Sickle Cell Anemia - Symptoms

The symptoms of sickle cell anemia usually appear during the first year or two of life. However, some individuals do not develop symptoms until they become adults, and may not be aware for many years that they have the disorder. Some typical symptoms of sickle cell anemia include:

  • Anemia. Anemia is caused by an inadequate number of red blood cells. It can result in fatigue, paleness, shortness of breath, headache, mild fever, and general ill health.
  • Painful crises. Pain can strike the patient in any part of the body without notice. These attacks can occur as rarely as once a year or as often as every few weeks. They can also last for a variable period of time, from a few hours to a few weeks. Pain in the hands and feet are sometimes the earliest symptoms of sickle cell anemia in a child.
  • Enlarged spleen and infections. Sickle-cell blockages can affect any of the body's organs. The organs do not receive the oxygen they need to grow normally. The spleen is especially at risk and may become enlarged or it may die completely. This can weaken the immune system and increase the chance that a patient will develop infections.
  • Delayed growth. Children with sickle cell anemia usually do not grow as fast as other children. They may also reach puberty (sexual maturity) at a later age.
  • Stroke. Blockages of blood vessels in the brain are especially dangerous. The brain may not get the oxygen it needs to function normally. When blockages occur, a person may become numb on one side of the body, may lose vision or the ability to speak, and may experience dizziness. Children between the ages of one and fifteen are at the highest risk for having a stroke due to sickle cell anemia.
  • Acute chest syndrome. Acute chest syndrome is caused by blockage of blood vessels in the lungs. Symptoms of the condition include fever, cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath. The condition can reoccur many times and may cause permanent lung damage.

Other problems caused by blood vessel blockage include kidney damage, enlarged liver, vision problems, and priapism (a condition in which a man experiences repeated and painful erections of the penis not related to sexual arousal; pronounced PREE-uh-piz-um).

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