Sickle Cell Anemia Complications

Sickle cell anemia do not always manifest complications physically. Individuals with sickle cell disease don’t always appear to look ill. Sickle cell anemia affects individuals differently so manifestation of symptoms of complications varies in each person from mild to severe. Complications are often experienced internally.  With proper managed care and healthy life style habits, some patients live fulfilled lives.

Sickle cell anemia is a serious chronic illness that need to be monitored very closely because the on set of some serious complications often requires immediate medical attention. The sickle cell anemia is a chronic serious disease that causes serious complications that can lead to mortality, however education and proper health management has shown individuals living long productive lives.

Sickle cell anemia can cause a host of complications so it is important for children and adults to receive comprehensive care. Understanding sickle cell complications and when to seek immediate medical care is the first steps to healthy habits living with sickle cell disease. A Fever of 101 or higher may be the first sign that something is wrong and immediate medical attention is needed. Time is essential to address complications. No delays to seek medical attention should be taken with a fever.  You are a partner in your care or your child’s care so be aware of

Sickle cell anemia complications include, but is not limited to the following:

Splenic Crisis
The spleen is an organ in the abdomen. It’s purpose is to filter out abnormal red blood cells and helps fight infections. Sometimes the spleen may trap red blood cells that should be in the bloodstream. This causes the spleen to grow large and leads to anemia. If the spleen traps too many red blood cells, you may need blood transfusions until your body can make more cells and recover. In some cases the spleen is removed.

Hand-Foot Syndrome
Swollen hands and feet may be the first signs of sickle cell anemia in babies. The swelling is often associated with a fever. It is caused by the sickle cells getting stuck in the blood vessels and blocking the flow of blood in and out of the hands and feet.

Pain “Episode” or “Crisis”
Periodic episodes of pain, called crises, are a major symptom of sickle cell anemia.Pain is the most common complication. Sometimes pain management control requires a visit to emergency room or hospital. When sickle cells travel through small blood vessels, they can get stuck and clog the blood flow. This causes pain that can may vary in intensity and can last for a few hours to a few weeks. Some people experience only a few episodes of pain. Others experience more frequent crises a year. Pain can occur in the chest, abdomen, bones and joints.

Anemia is a very common complication of SCD. Normal red blood cells live 120 days. Sickle cells live 10 to 20 days. Sickle red blood cells die quickly. This means there are not enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body.Red blood cells provide your body with the oxygen and nutrients needed. Anemia is present, a person might have:
•No energy or feel fatigue
•Pale skin color
•Jaundice (yellow color to the skin and whites of the eyes)
•Slow growth
•Delayed puberty

Individuals living with sickle cell disease, especially infants and children, are more at risk for infections. Some infections that don’t affect people with normal cell, can be very serious for someone with sickle cell. Sickle cells can damage your spleen, an organ that fights infection. This may make you more vulnerable to infections. Doctors commonly give infants and children with sickle cell anemia vaccinations and antibiotics to prevent potentially life-threatening infections, such as pneumonia. Pneumonia is a leading cause of death in infants and young children with sickle cell disease. Vaccines can protect against some harmful infections.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and Pulmonary Embolism (PE)
Sickling of red cells can increase blood coagulation and induce an increased risk of blood clot in a deep vein (DVT), or in the lung (PE) if the blood clot moves from the deep veins. People with SCD have a high chance of developing DVT or PE. DVT and PE can cause serious illness, disability and, in some cases, death.
Medication is used to prevent and treat DVT and PE. PE requires immediate medical attention.

A stroke can occur if sickle cells block blood flow to an area of your brain. Signs of stroke include seizures, weakness or numbness of your arms and legs, sudden speech difficulties, and loss of consciousness. If your baby or child has any of these signs and symptoms, seek medical treatment immediately. A stroke can be fatal.

Acute chest syndrome
This life-threatening complication of sickle cell anemia causes chest pain, fever and difficulty breathing. Acute chest syndrome can be caused by a lung infection or by sickle cells blocking blood vessels in your lungs. It requires emergency medical treatment with antibiotics and other treatments. People who have this condition often have chest pain, shortness of breath, and fever. They also often have low oxygen levels and abnormal chest x ray results.

Pulmonary hypertension
Damage to the small blood vessels in the lungs makes it hard for the heart to pump blood through the lungs. This causes blood pressure in the lungs to rise (pulmonary hypertension). This complication usually affects adults rather than children. Shortness of breath and fatigue are common symptoms of this condition, which can be fatal.

Organ damage
Sickle cells can block blood flow through blood vessels, immediately depriving an organ of blood and oxygen. In sickle cell anemia, blood is also chronically low on oxygen. Chronic deprivation of oxygen-rich blood can damage nerves and organs in your body, including your kidneys, liver and spleen. Organ damage can be fatal.

Tiny blood vessels that supply your eyes can get blocked by sickle cells. Over time, this can damage the portion of the eye that processes visual images (retina) and lead to blindness.

Skin Ulcers
Sickle cell anemia can cause open sores, called ulcers, on your legs.

The breakdown of red blood cells produces a substance called bilirubin. A high level of bilirubin in your body can lead to gallstones.

Men with sickle cell anemia may experience painful, long-lasting erections, a condition called priapism. As occurs in other parts of the body, sickle cells can block the blood vessels in the penis. This can damage the penis and eventually lead to impotence.