Sickle Cell Anemia
What Is It?
Sickle cell anemia is an inherited blood disorder.
- Chronic destruction of red blood cells, causing severe anemia
- Episodes of intense pain
- Vulnerability to infections
- Organ damage
- In some cases, early death
Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. People with sickle cell anemia inherit a defective type of hemoglobin. When oxygen levels inside a red blood cell get low, the defective hemoglobin forms long rods. These rods stretch the red blood cells into long, abnormal "sickle" shapes. In contrast, normal red blood cells are disc-shaped.
Sickle-shaped red blood cells cannot easily pass through the body's blood vessels. Instead, they clog blood vessels. They block the flow of blood and cut off the oxygen supply to tissues and organs.