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:
Sickle cell disease is diagnosed with a simple blood test. It is usually diagnosed at birth with routine newborn screening tests. When asked about screening your newborn, say yes.
If you or your partner or spouse have sickle cell disease or it runs in your family, you should ask about genetic counseling even before you become pregnant. Women with sickle cell disease who are pregnant should receive extra care during pregnancy to find and treat problems early. Your baby can be tested for sickle cell disease even before it is born.
Most of the time, you won't know what caused your sickle cell crisis. A crisis usually has more than one cause. However, you can do several things to help keep a crisis from occurring, including:
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff