I recently wrote an article about sickle cell disease for BlackandMarriedWithKids.com please read it here.
Sickle cell crises can affect many parts of the body and cause many complications.
Sickle cells can block the small blood vessels in the hands and feet in children (usually those younger than 4 years of age). This condition is called hand-foot syndrome. It can lead to pain, swelling, and fever.
Swelling often occurs on the back of the hands and feet and moves into the fingers and toes. One or both hands and/or feet might be affected at the same time.
The spleen is an organ in the abdomen. Normally, it filters out abnormal red blood cells and helps fight infections. Sometimes the spleen may trap red blood cells that should be in the bloodstream. This causes the spleen to grow large and leads to anemia. If the spleen traps too many red blood cells, you may need blood transfusions until your body can make more cells and recover.
Acute Chest Syndrome
Acute chest syndrome is a life-threatening condition linked to sickle cell anemia. This syndrome is similar to pneumonia. An infection or sickle cells trapped in the lungs can cause acute chest syndrome.
People who have this condition often have chest pain, shortness of breath, and fever. They also often have low oxygen levels and abnormal chest x ray results.
Damage to the small blood vessels in the lungs makes it hard for the heart to pump blood through the lungs. This causes blood pressure in the lungs to rise.
Increased blood pressure in the lungs is called pulmonary hypertension (PH). Shortness of breath and fatigue are the main symptoms of PH.
Delayed Growth and Puberty in Children
Children who have sickle cell anemia often grow more slowly than other children. They may reach puberty later. A shortage of red blood cells causes the slow growth rate. Adults who have sickle cell anemia often are slender or smaller in size than other adults.
Two forms of stroke can occur in people who have sickle cell anemia. One form occurs if a blood vessel in the brain is damaged and blocked. This type of stroke occurs more often in children than adults. The other form of stroke occurs if a blood vessel in the brain bursts.
Either type of stroke can cause learning problems and lasting brain damage, long-term disability, paralysis (an inability to move), or death.
Males who have sickle cell anemia may have painful, unwanted erections. This condition is called priapism (PRI-a-pizm). It happens because the sickle cells block blood flow out of an erect penis. Over time, priapism can damage the penis and lead to impotence.
When red blood cells die, they release their hemoglobin. The body breaks down this protein into a compound called bilirubin. Too much bilirubin in the body can cause stones to form in the gallbladder, called gallstones.
Gallstones may cause steady pain that lasts for 30 minutes or more in the upper right side of the belly, under the right shoulder, or between the shoulder blades. The pain may happen after eating fatty meals.
People who have gallstones may have nausea (feeling sick to the stomach), vomiting, fever, sweating, chills, clay-colored stools, or jaundice.
Ulcers on the Legs
Sickle cell ulcers (sores) usually begin as small, raised, crusted sores on the lower third of the leg. Leg sores may occur more often in males than in females. These sores usually develop in people who are aged 10 years or older.
The cause of sickle cell ulcers isn’t clear. The number of ulcers can vary from one to many. Some heal quickly, but others persist for years or come back after healing.
Multiple Organ Failure
Multiple organ failure is rare, but serious. It happens if you have a sickle cell crisis that causes two out of three major organs (lungs, liver, or kidneys) to fail. Often, multiple organ failure occurs during an unusually severe pain crisis.
Symptoms of this complication are fever, rapid heartbeat, problems breathing, and changes in mental status (such as sudden tiredness or confusion).