Symptoms of sickle cell disease may be noticed as soon as four months of age, or it may go undetected until later in the baby’s first year of life.

When the misshapen red blood cells of sickle cell anemia block blood vessels, oxygen deprivation results. Periods of acute oxygen deprivation cause severely painful episodes called “pain crises.” The location of the pain and the types of symptoms depend on what tissues or organs of the body have been deprived of oxygen.

Symptoms of sickle cell disease include:

  • Fever
  • Swollen hands and feet
  • Pain in:
    • Chest
    • Abdomen
    • Arms
    • Legs
    • Joints
    • Bones
  • Enlarged organs, including:
    • Heart
    • Liver
    • Spleen
  • Increased risk of infection, especially pneumonia
  • Symptoms of anemia, including:
    • Severe fatigue
    • Headache
    • Dizziness
    • Shortness of breath
    • Heart failure
  • Yellowish tone to the whites of the eyes and the skin ( jaundice )
  • Episodes of sickle cell crisis, including:
    • Severe chest pain
    • Shortness of breath
    • Severe abdominal pain
    • Severe bone pain
    • Nausea
    • Fever
    • In males, painful, prolonged erections of the penis (called priapism), which may result in impotence

Other medical conditions that can result from sickle cell disease include:

  • Leg sores
  • Gum disease
  • Damage to the retina of the eye, resulting in vision loss
  • Enlargement of the heart due to chronic anemia
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney infections
  • Kidney damage and eventual failure
  • Bone infections
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Spleen damage and destruction
    • Without a working spleen, there is an increased risk of certain infections, including particular types of pneumonia and meningitis.
  • Stroke
  • Abnormal bone growth
  • Delayed puberty
  • Learning and behavior problems in children who have had severe, chronic oxygen deprivation of the brain

Sickle cell crisis and other symptoms can occur episodically and spontaneously, or can be provoked by certain triggers, including:

  • Smoking
  • Exercise
  • Travel to high altitudes
  • Drops in oxygen or changes in air pressure that can occur during airplane travel
  • Fever
  • Infection
  • Dehydration