People with sickle cell anemia, also known as sickle cell disease (SCD), exhibit a wide variety of symptoms, the most common of which is the characteristic fatigue experienced by individuals suffering from a red blood cell deficiency. The irregularly-shaped red blood cells take in those afflicted with the disease also causes patients intense pain. Other symptoms include swollen hands and feet, impaired vision, and stunted physical development. People with sickle cell anemia might also have pale or yellowish skin, with the discoloration sometimes extending to the eyes. Individuals suffering from the condition are more prone to strokes and are subsequently more likely to exhibit symptoms of strokes.
One of the main functions of red blood cells is the transportation of oxygen to the various parts of the body, providing energy for cell metabolism. Due to a genetic mutation in the beta-globin chain of hemoglobin, the red blood cells of people with sickle cell anemia lose their elasticity and warp into a sickle-like shape. This causes the cells to be more fragile than normal, which in turn, leads to a deficiency of red blood cells. Without an adequate amount of red blood cells to transport oxygen around the body, patients often feel physically and mentally sluggish.
The odd shape of sickled red blood cells increases the chances of blockages forming in blood vessels, particularly in the torso and joints. This can result in pain of varying degrees and length; people with sickle cell anemia might experience a few hours of slight discomfort, while other patients might suffer weeks of intense pain. In some cases, the pain is chronic and requires therapy. The blockages can also impair circulation to the hands and feet, resulting in swelling most commonly observed in infants. Blood vessels in and leading to the eyes might also result in impaired vision, which can lead to permanent blindness if not corrected.
With their bodies deprived of adequate oxygen supplies, people with sickle cell anemia often experience slow physical development. Patients' cells cannot metabolize quickly enough to maintain a normal growth rate, often leading many individuals with the disease to be shorter and smaller than similarly-aged peers. Their skin and nail beds tend to lack coloration as well. In some cases, the deficiency causes cells to develop a yellowish tint most commonly observed on the skin and in the eyes. Symptoms of strokes, such as tingling sensations in the face or limbs, partial paralysis, and sudden-onset nausea and migraines, are also more common in people with sickle cell anemia than in those without the condition.