Sickle Cell Disease
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Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle Cell Disease Symptoms

Sickle cell disease is an  inherited disease, which means you are born with it. However, most newborns do not have any problems from the disease until they are about 5 or 6 months old.

The symptoms of sickle cell disease can be different for each person and may change over time. How the disease affects your body over time will determine what kind of symptoms you may have. 

Early symptoms

  • A yellowish color of the skin (jaundice) or whites of the eyes (icterus) that appears when a large number of red cells undergo hemolysis
  • Extreme tiredness or fussiness from anemia, which occurs when your body is not getting enough oxygen because there are not as many healthy red blood cells
  • Painful swelling of the hands and feet, known as dactylitis  

Know when to seek emergency medical care

Sickle cell disease can lead to serious and life-threatening health problems. If you think that you or someone else is having any of the following symptoms or complications, seek medical care or call 9-1-1 right away:

  • Severe anemia: Symptoms include extreme tiredness (fatigue), shortness of breath, dizziness, or irregular heartbeat. Splenic sequestration crisis or an aplastic crisis can cause severe anemia symptoms. These conditions can be life-threatening.
  • Fever: People with a fever of more than 101.3 degrees Fahrenheit, or 38.5 degrees Celsius, should seek attention from a healthcare provider and treatment with antibiotics right away. Some people will need to be hospitalized.
  • Acute chest syndrome: Symptoms include chest pain, coughing, fever, and shortness of breath. You will need to be admitted to the hospital, where you may receive antibiotics, oxygen therapy, or a blood transfusion.
  • Stroke: Warning signs include sudden weakness, numbness on one side of the body, confusion, trouble speaking, seeing, or walking.
  • Priapism: An erection that lasts for 4 hours or more. You will need to go to the hospital to see a hematologist (a doctor who specializes in blood conditions and diseases) and a urologist (a doctor who specializes in treating conditions of the male reproductive and urinary systems).
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