Sickle cell anaemia - medical information

Sickle cell anaemia is the most common genetic (inherited) disease in England, affecting around 12,500 people.

Sickle cell disease (SCD), also known as sickle cell anaemia (SCA), is a hereditary blood disorder, caused by an abnormality in the oxygen-carrying protein haemoglobin found in red blood cells.

Causes of sickle cell anaemia

  • In people with sickle cell anaemia the shape and texture of the blood cells can change.
  • The cells become hard and sticky and are shaped like sickles, or crescents.
  • The cells die prematurely leading to a shortage of red blood cells.
  • This causes the symptoms of anaemia such as tiredness and breathlessness.

Symptoms of sickle cell anaemia

  • If you have sickle-cell anaemia, your blood cells can get stuck when moving through small blood vessels, stopping the supply of oxygen to parts of your body.
  • This is known as a 'sickle crisis'.
  • This can cause pain, tissue damage, and can lead to other serious complications, such as a stroke, or blindness.

Treatments for sickle cell anaemia

  • The only cure for sickle cell anaemia is a stem cell transplant.
  • However a bone marrow transplant has many potentially serious side effects and is not recommended for all cases.
  • The symptoms of sickle cell anaemia can be treated and people with the condition can learn how to help prevent a sickle crisis from happening.

Common triggers of a sickle cell crisis include:

  • Infections
  • Dehydration
  • Stress
  • Excessive temperatures
  • Excessive physical activity

Pamela, 18, was born with sickle cell anaemia and here she describes how to cope with the disease on a daily basis.

(video from NHS Choices YouTube channel)

 

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