What Is Sickle Cell Anemia?
Sickle cell anemia (uh-NEE-me-uh) is a serious disease in which the body makes sickle-shaped red blood cells. “Sickle-shaped” means that the red blood cells are shaped like a "C."
Normal red blood cells are disc-shaped and look like doughnuts without holes in the center. They move easily through your blood vessels. Red blood cells contain the protein hemoglobin (HEE-muh-glow-bin). This iron-rich protein gives blood its red color and carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.
Sickle cells contain abnormal hemoglobin that causes the cells to have a sickle shape. Sickle-shaped cells don’t move easily through your blood vessels. They’re stiff and sticky and tend to form clumps and get stuck in the blood vessels. (Other cells also may play a role in this clumping process.)
The clumps of sickle cells block blood flow in the blood vessels that lead to the limbs and organs. Blocked blood vessels can cause pain, serious infections, and organ damage.
Content provided by the National Institutes of Health, National Heart Lung and Blood Institute and Department of Health and Human Services 2007