What is sickle cell disease? Early symptoms from shortness of breath to tiredness

What is sickle cell disease? Early symptoms from shortness of breath to tiredness

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is part of group of diseases caused by red blood cell disorders.

Red blood cells contain haemoglobin, which is a protein that carries oxygen.

When a person has healthy red blood cells, they are round and move easily through small blood vessels to help carry oxygen to all parts of the body.

But when a person has SCD, their haemoglobin is abnormal and this causes the red blood cells to become hard and sticky.

They also resemble a C-shaped tool called a sickle – hence the name.

What are the early symptoms indicating a person may have SCD?

Sickle cell symptoms

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) further explains how the disease impacts the body.

It says: “The sickle cells die early, which causes a constant shortage of red blood cells.

“Also, when they travel through small blood vessels, they get stuck and clog the blood flow.

“This can cause pain and other serious complications (health problems) such as infection, acute chest syndrome and stroke.”

Who’s at risk from sickle cell disease?
Sickle cell disease is particularly common in people with an African or Caribbean family background.

People of African descent, including African-Americans, are the most at risk of SCD.

Other at-risk groups include Hispanic-Americans from central and South America, as well as people of Middle Eastern, Asian, Indian and Mediterranean descent.

People born with sickle cell disease tend to have problems from early childhood, although some children have few symptoms and lead normal lives most of the time.

Early signs of sickle cell disease

According to the NHS, the main symptoms of sickle cell disease are:

Painful episodes called sickle cell crises, which can be very severe and last up to a week.
An increased risk of serious infections.
Anaemia (where red blood cells cannot carry enough oxygen around the body), which can cause tiredness and shortness of breath.
“Some people also experience other problems, such as delayed growth, strokes and lung problems,” added the national health body.

Sickle cell anaemia
People with SCD are also more vulnerable to infections, as they don’t have a functioning spleen.

If the spleen doesn’t work properly then it may start to remove healthy blood cells.

This can lead to anaemia, easy bleeding or bruising, and an increased risk of infection.

Sickle cell diagnosis
In order for a diagnosis to be made, you would need to have inherited the condition from both your mother and father.

Otherwise, if you only inherit the faulty gene from one parent, you are known as a sickle cell carrier.

Sickle cell carriers will have some abnormal cells in their bloodstream, but there will be enough healthy haemoglobin to eradicate symptoms of the condition.