Perhaps one of the most familiar -- and least understood -- forms of anemia is sickle cell anemia. An inherited disorder, sickle cell anemia causes crescent moon-shaped red blood cells.
Red blood cells are charged with the task of delivering oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, picking up carbon dioxide along the way and delivering it back to the lungs to be expelled.
The irregular crescent moon-shaped red blood cells are unable to move quickly through the blood stream, may become stuck in other smaller blood vessels and are generally inefficient in delivering much-needed oxygen to vital organs. They also die much more quickly than normal red blood cells, creating a constant shortage in the red blood cell supply chain.
When this happens, the healthy red blood cells, which are much too few in number in persons with sickle cell anemia, become overtaxed and are unable to adequately supply the body with all of its oxygen needs.
Sickle cell anemia is more common in certain ethnicities than others. In the United States, persons of African-American descent are more likely to inherit this disorder. Some estimates are that one out of every 12 African-Americans is affected by sickle cell anemia.
However, African-American is not the only ethnic group at risk for sickle cell anemia. Persons from South and Central America have an increased risk of sickle cell anemia, particularly in the Panama area. In addition, persons from the Caribbean islands, India, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Italy, and Turkey are also more likely to inherit this form of anemia.
Although diagnosis can occur later in childhood, sickle cell anemia symptoms generally manifest during infancy. Some common sickle cell anemia symptoms include:
• Pain -- called a crisis -- in chest, abdomen, joints, and bones may be mild or severe and may last short-term or a relatively long time
• Spleen damage
• Infections – spleen damage impairs the ability to fight infection leaving those with sickle cell anemia susceptible to infections
• Hand-foot syndrome – swelling of hands and feet
• Stunted growth and delayed puberty