Explainer: What you need to know about Sickle Cell Anemia


• Sickle cell anemia is an inherited condition, meaning it is passed down from parents to their children.

What's a sickle cell anemia?

Sickle cell anemia is a genetic blood disorder where red blood cells become rigid and sickle-shaped. 

These abnormal cells can get stuck in blood vessels, causing pain and other complications.

It's more common in people of African, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Indian descent. 

What Causes It?

Sickle cell anemia is caused by a genetic mutation in the hemoglobin gene.

This mutation leads to the production of abnormal hemoglobin, which causes red blood cells to become rigid and take on a sickle shape.

These sickle-shaped cells can get stuck in blood vessels, leading to reduced oxygen flow and causing various complications.

Sickle cell anemia is an inherited condition, meaning it is passed down from parents to their children.


Sickle cell anemia can cause a range of symptoms, which can vary from person to person.

Some common symptoms include;

  • fatigue,
  • jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes),
  • pain episodes called "crises,"
  • frequent infections,
  • delayed growth, and
  • vision problems.

The pain episodes can occur in various parts of the body, such as the bones, chest, abdomen, and joints.

Individuals with sickle cell anemia need to work closely with healthcare professionals to manage symptoms and receive appropriate care. Certain triggers can increase the likelihood of a sickle cell crisis.

its triggers

Individuals with sickle cell anemia need to be aware of these triggers and take steps to minimize their impact. These triggers can vary from person to person, but some common ones include:

  •  Extreme temperatures: Both very hot and very cold temperatures can trigger a sickle cell crisis.
  • Dehydration: Not drinking enough fluids can lead to dehydration, which can increase the likelihood of a crisis.
  •  Infections: Illnesses, such as the flu or pneumonia.
  •  Stress: Emotional or physical stress can sometimes trigger a crisis.
  • Altitude changes: Rapid changes in altitude, such as during air travel or mountain climbing, can increase the risk of a crisis.

Working closely with healthcare professionals can help individuals develop personalized strategies to prevent and manage sickle cell crises.

Treatment options

There are various treatments available for sickle cell anemia but their goal of treatment is to manage symptoms, prevent complications, and improve quality of life and not cure. 

Some common treatments include;

  • pain management during crises,
  • supplemental oxygen therapy,
  • blood transfusions, and
  • medications to reduce the frequency and severity of crises.


 Some of the medications put in place to help with sickle cell include;

  • Hydroxyurea, a medication that increases the production of fetal hemoglobin, may be prescribed to help prevent sickle cell crises.
  • Blood transfusions can be an important option for individuals with sickle cell anemia.

Blood transfusions for sickle cell anemia can be beneficial, but there are some potential complications to be aware of.

These complications may include

  • Iron overload, as each transfusion adds more iron to the body. Iron overload can lead to organ damage if not properly managed. 
  • Development of antibodies against certain blood antigens, which can make future transfusions more challenging.
  • Transfusion reactions, such as fever, allergic reactions, or infections, are also possible, although they are rare.

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