7 Symptoms of Sickle Cell Anemia

Sickle cell anemia, one of several sickle cell disorders, is a severe health condition that affects multiple systems in the body. It is caused when you inherit two genes, one from each parent, that affect the production of hemoglobin; hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to cells throughout your body. It also carries carbon dioxide back to the lungs so that it can be expelled when you breath out.

Normally, red blood cells look like rounded disks with a dent in the center. They look a bit like doughnuts with holes that don’t go all the way through. But, if you have sickle cell anemia, the change in hemoglobin gives the cells a curved shape, like a crescent moon. The abnormal hemoglobin forms hard rods inside the cells so they don’t bend easily. This means that in tight blood vessels they tend to burst instead of flexing through the smaller space. Normally, a red blood cell would last over 90 days, but sickle cells only last a week or two. This means that your body is constantly trying to replace the burst blood cells but might not be able to keep up. The cells also get stuck in blood vessels and can block blood from entering organs in the body, causing them to be starved of oxygen. This can lead to serious symptoms from the disorder, some of them life threatening.

1. Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath, or dyspnea, can occur when sickle cells get stuck and block the flow of blood into your lungs. You may also have a blockage of sickle cells within the itself, that acts similar to a blood clot. You take gasps of air as if you have been exercising very hard and can’t catch your breath. Even though you are breathing in large breaths of air, your lungs may feel like they are burning. This brings on acute distress, and understandably, extreme anxiety. Despite breathing normal air, your body feels as though you are drowning. This is referred to as air hunger, the overwhelming feeling that you need to take a breath or that you are not getting enough air. The body begins to panic and struggle from the feeling of suffocating. Shortness of breath is not just scary, but can be a symptom of something life threatening. If blood is not moving in and out of the lungs properly, this can lead to acutely low oxygen levels. You might even lose consciousness. The parts of your lungs that are blocked off could die from the lack of oxygen. It is recommended that someone with sickle cell anemia get medical treatment quickly if they are experiencing shortness of breath.