Sickle Cell Anaemia is an inherited form of anaemia. It is a condition in which there are not enough healthy red blood cells to carry sufficient oxygen throughout the body. Normally, red blood cells are flexible and round, enabling them to move around the body, squeezing through the small blood vessels. In sickle cell anaemia, the red blood cells become rigid, sticky and unbending and are shaped like crescents. Because they lack the ability to bend, they tend to get stuck in small blood vessels, slowing the blood flow to parts of the body.
There are many signs and symptoms of sickle cell anaemia and they vary from person to person. They include:-
Sickle cells are extremely rigid compared to normal red blood cells and as such break apart vey easily and die, leaving the body without enough red blood cells to meet its oxygen requirements. Normal red blood cells have a life span of about 120 days. Sickle cells have a lifespan of about 20 days. Without enough red blood cells, the body lacks sufficient oxygen required to produce energy causing fatigue.
Pain episodes:- sickle cell anaemia causes periodic episodes of pain called crises. The pain typically occurs when sickle shaped red blood cells block the flow of blood through tiny blood vessels to the chest, abdomen or joints. The pain can also occur in the bones. The pain varies in length and intensity. It could last for a few hours or a few weeks. Some people only experience a few painful episodes. Others have 12 or more crises a year. If a crisis is severe enough, it might require hospitalization.
Swelling of hands and feet
These swellings are once again caused by the blockage of blood vessels by sickle shaped red blood cells. The blockage of the vessels causes the hands and feet to swell up due to accumulation of water in the tissues.
Quite a few sickle cell patients experience visual problems. It is usually caused by the blockage of the tiny blood vessels that irrigate the retina of the eyes. The lack of blood flow caused by blockage can damage the retina leading to visual problems.
Sickle cell anaemia is usually diagnosed in infancy but if you or your child develops any of the following problems, it is advised to see a doctor immediately.
-Unexplained episodes of severe pain:- This especially refers to unexplained pain in the chest, abdomen, bones or joints.
-Fever:-Sickle celled patients tend to be at a very high risk of infections and one of the earliest signs of an infection is fever.
-Yellow colouration of the eyes or skin:- destruction of the red blood cells causes certain compounds to be released in the body. In sickle cell anaemia, the red blood cells die prematurely and release a huge amount of this compound. It causes the whites of the eyes and the skin to become yellow, a condition known as jaundice.