RBCs are normally soft and round. This helps them move easily through the blood vessels. A main building block of the RBC is hemoglobin.
People with sickle cell anemia have an abnormal type of hemoglobin. It causes the red blood cells to become hard and sickle-shaped. Because of their odd shape, some of the cells get stuck in the small blood vessels. There they break apart. The broken parts can cause blockages in the vessels. This can happen in a blood vessel that leads to a major organ. The decreased blood flow can cause severe pain and organ damage.
The body also recognizes that sickled cells are abnormal. The body will destroy them faster than they can be replaced. This causes anemia especially under the following conditions:
- Drop in oxygen or change in air pressure (sometimes occurs during airplane travel)
Factors that increase your chance for sickle cell anemia include:
- Genetics: the defective gene needs to be inherited from both parents to have the disease
- Race: Blacks of sub-Saharan origin
- Ethnicity: Greeks, Italians, and people from some parts of India, Central and South America, and the Arabian Peninsula
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