Sickle Cell Disease | Overview


What is sickle cell disease?

Sickle cell disease, also called sickle cell anemia, is a hereditary condition (which means it runs in families). It causes a type of abnormal hemoglobin (a protein found in red blood cells). Hemoglobin carries oxygen in the blood. 

Normal red blood cells are round and flexible. In people who have sickle cell disease, some red blood cells can become hard and change shape so that they look like sickles (a C-shaped farm tool) or crescent moons. These blood cells can get stuck in small blood vessels, which slows or blocks blood and oxygen reaching nearby tissues.

 Sickle cell disease can cause:

  • Swollen hands and feet
  • Jaundice (the yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes)
  • Anemia (the decreased ability of the blood to carry oxygen because of a decrease in red blood cells)
  • Severe pain episodes (called pain crises)
  • Serious infections
  • Organ damage

Written by editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 10/15
Created: 09/90