Sickle cell anemia is a serious condition, in which, red blood cells are C-shaped or sickle shaped. The symptoms of this disease are very vague and surface only after four months, when someone contracts the disease. The individuals suffering from this type of anemia experience a lot of pain.
Sickle cell anemia is a hereditary disease that runs in families. It is a severe blood disease and occurs when both the genes of hemoglobin are defective. In this type of anemia, the distorted red blood cells appear like a crescent or a sickle. It is caused due to an abnormal type of hemoglobin, called hemoglobin S. Hemoglobin is the iron rich protein that gives red color to the blood and carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Due to lack of oxygen, the red blood corpuscles become fragile and get constricted to form sickles. These cells then deliver less amount of oxygen to the tissues in the body.
The sickle shaped red blood cells have a tendency to stick together, while limiting their proper movement through blood vessels and break into pieces forming a clump, thus clogging small blood vessels and disrupt the healthy flow of the blood. The individual having this anemia inherits this disorder from his parents. It is a congenital defect and the first signs are observed when the baby is four months old. The disease can be observed in people living in the Caribbean, the Middle East, South and Central America.
Identifying the Signs
The clogged blood vessels during this disease, restrict the blood flow to the organs and limbs of the body, causing pain, serious infections, organ damage, and general discomfort to the person:
- Hazy or poor eyesight and blindness
- Spasms followed by severe pain in the abdomen
- Periodic episodes of pain, especially in the joints
- Coldness in hands and feet
- Dizziness and severe fatigue
- Unexplained and excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Sudden acute or chronic pain in the limbs
- Hand and foot syndrome occurs, where the hands and feet begin to swell, followed by fever. In infants, the disease can be diagnosed if hand and foot syndrome is noticed.
- Delayed growth in children
- Jaundice, often noticed by yellowing of the eyes and the skin
- Paleness and shortness of breath
- Deterioration of the retina due to lack of nourishment; damage can lead to partial or total blindness.
- Severe, prolonged headache and chest pain.
Individuals, especially children suffering from sickle cell anemia are more vulnerable to infections, since they have low hemoglobin levels. The body fails to produce antibodies and hence it becomes prone to pneumonia, which in some cases can become a threat to life. Another life-threatening condition is the acute chest syndrome, in which, the sickle cells get trapped in the lungs leading to pulmonary tract infections. Blockage in the arteries, especially in the brain can lead to strokes.
Though treating this condition is a bit difficult, in rare cases, undergoing bone marrow transplant can be a solution. But this procedure is very risky and there is also a dearth of donors. Blood transfusions are done in order to increase the amount of hemoglobin in the body. Children below two months are given small doses of penicillin in order to ward off pneumonia. There are also many basic treatment methods, like administering intravenous painkiller drugs to relieve pain and reduce complications.
Earlier there was a high rate of mortality among individuals suffering from this dreadful disease. Many even succumbed to multiple organ failures. However, today, due to advanced medical treatment methods, the life expectancy of patients has increased to a great extent.