Early symptoms of sickle cell anemia

Sickle Cell The early symptoms of sickle cell anemia tend to appear at about 4 months of age. This condition is the most common form of sickle cell disease – or SCD –, a hereditary disorder that affects the physical shape of red blood cells, turning them from flexible, round, discs with doughnut-like holes in the center to stiff, sticky, sickle-shaped crescents . Whereas normal red blood cells travel smoothly through the blood vessels, misshapen blood cells can become jammed in small blood vessels and obstruct the flow of blood and oxygen throughout the body, leading to a variety of symptoms and complications, as seen below.

Sickle cell anemia symptoms and complications:

·         Anemia.

·         Pain episodes.

·         Hand-foot syndrome.

·         Recurrent infections.

·         Splenic sequestration.

·         Stunted growth.

·         Vision problems.

·         Acute chest syndrome.

·         Aplastic crisis.

·         Stroke.

·         Pulmonary hypertension.

·         Priapism.

·         Gallstones.

·         Leg ulcers.

·         Multiple organ damage.

Sickle cell anemia symptoms and complications


Sickle cells are very brittle and usually live only one sixth of the average lifespan of a healthy red blood cell. This dearth of red blood cells is called anemia, which is characterized by:

·         Shortness of breath.

·         Dizziness.

·         Headaches.

·         Coldness in hands and feet.

·         Paler than usual skin or mucous membranes.

·          Jaundice.

Pain episodes

Pain may be felt in different areas of the body where sickle cells have blocked the blood vessels, and it may vary in intensity, recurrence and duration.

Hand-foot syndrome

Painful swelling of the hands and feet caused by obstructed circulation may be among the early symptoms of sickle cell anemia.

Recurrent infections

A cluster of abnormal red blood cells may enlarge the spleen and render it ineffectual in fighting bacterial infections, as well as cause fatigue, weakness, and abdominal pain.

Splenic sequestration

Stunted growth

Fewer red blood cells to supply the body with oxygen and nutrients may result in slow growth in infants and delayed puberty in adolescents.

Eye problems

Small blood vessels that supply the eyes with oxygen may become clogged with sickle cells and damage the retina, including blindness.

Acute chest syndrome

A potentially deadly complication caused by inflammation, infection, and obstructions of small vessels in the lungs, and characterized by chest pain, coughing, difficulty breathing, and fever.

Aplastic crisis

A drop in red blood cell production by the bone marrow due to infection, which can result in extreme anemia.


The possibly lethal consequence blocked or burst blood vessels in the brain. Signs include seizures, weakness or numbness of arms and legs, sudden speech difficulties, and loss of consciousness.

Pulmonary hypertension

High blood pressure in the lungs most commonly seen in adults, characterized by shortness of breath and fatigue.


A condition named after the Greek god Priapus, who sported a massive perma-erection. Sickle cells can block vessels in the penis, leading to painful, long-lasting erections and eventually to impotence.


Produced by an excess of a substance known as bilirubin, caused by red blood cell breakdown. Signs include nausea, vomiting, fever, sweating, chills, clay-colored stools, or jaundice.

Leg ulcers

Small, raised, crusted, open sores caused by sickle cell anemia.

Multiple organ damage

The kidneys, liver, spleen, lungs and other organs may be deprived of blood and oxygen. Multiple organ failure is uncommon but can be life-threatening.


What is sickle cell trait?

Sickle cell trait – or SCT – occurs when a person inherits one sickle cell gene and one normal gene from his or her parents. Someone with SCT is not expected to experience the early symptoms of sickle cell anemia, but they do have the potential of passing sickle cell disease on to their children.

Inheriting SCT

Both parents

have SCT

50% chance that any child they have will have sickle cell trait.

25% chance that any child they have will have sickle cell disease.*

One parent has SCT

50% chance that any child of this parent will have SCT.**

*There is an equal chance (25%) that the child will not have either SCT or SCD.

**There is an equal chance (50%) that the child will not have SCT.