Sickle cell anemia is a genetic condition present from birth, with symptoms usually beginning to appear at about 4 months old.
The main symptom of the condition is low red blood cell count, a form of anemia, which often causes pale skin and nails. This also can also cause delayed growth in young patients, because the body is not receiving the oxygen and nutrients it needs.
Many of the other symptoms of the condition are caused by a blockage in the blood vessels and may include:
- Pain, often in the chest, joints or limbs
- Swelling of the hands and feet
- Vision problems
- Rarely, stroke
Patients with sickle cell anemia often experience more infections due to damage to the spleen, an organ that fights infections.
Causes and Risk Factors
Sickle cell anemia is a genetic condition passed down from parents to children. It is recessive, which means both parents must carry the gene in order for the child to have the condition. If only one of the parents has the gene, they are known as carriers of the trait. A carrier is someone who has the gene and can pass it on to his or her children, but does not develop the condition.
In the United States, the condition most commonly affects African Americans. Other populations most commonly affected include those from Africa, India, the Mediterranean region, Saudi Arabia, Caribbean islands, and Central and South America.