Sickle Cell Anaemia or Sickle Cell Disease is a congenital disorder that causes the red blood cells to contort into a sickle shape. The sticky rigid cells may get stuck in the smaller blood vessels and in turn, prevent or slow down the process of oxygen and blood flow to other body parts. This painful condition referred to as a sickle cell crisis may lead to a wide range of complications over time.
Look out for the following complications –
Here is a look at the various and most common complications of sickle cell anaemia –
Damage to the organs - Although sickle cell anaemia does cause blood to have less oxygen, the condition is not serious enough to damage your organs. However, the risk of organ damage develops when a sickle cell is caught in the blood vessel and restricts the flow of blood and eventually causing permanent damage to organs, such as the liver, spleen, and kidneys.
Even though damage to the organs is irreversible, it is possible to delay the process if the condition is detected at an early stage. Therefore, regular health checkups and blood tests are strongly recommended for people with sickle cell anaemia.
Acute chest syndrome - This may occur if a sickle cell ends up blocking the blood vessels in your lungs. Acute chest syndrome is a potentially fatal condition characterized by chest pain, shortness of breath, coughing and fever. This requires immediate medical intervention.
Hand-foot syndrome - This condition is also known as dactylitis. It occurs due to the blockage of the blood vessels of the feet or hands. For some people, this could be the initial symptoms of sickle cell anaemia characterized by fever and painful swelling in the feet or hands. The treatment of hand-foot syndrome primarily involves a combination of certain pain medications and drinking fluids.
Stunted or delayed growth and development - Red blood cells provide your body with oxygen and other nutrients essential for healthy growth and development. However, due to poor or lack of oxygen flow, a majority of children and teenagers may experience delayed growth and later onset of puberty. It may also cause infertility in men.
Loss of vision - In some cases, the smaller blood vessels supplying blood to your eyes may become blocked with sickle cells over time, thus causing severe damage to the retina. Some people even develop excess blood vessels due to the reduced flow of oxygen. Both the conditions man contribute to the loss of vision. People with sickle cell anaemia are hence advised to undergo eye testing at least once a year.
Gallstones - The breakdown of red blood cells results in the formation of bilirubin your body. For a person with sickle cell anaemia, the breakdown happens at a faster rate resulting in excess production of bilirubin. A high amount of bilirubin in the body may lead to the formation of gallstones in the gallbladder.
The most common symptoms of gallstone include nausea, vomiting, as well as pain in the back, shoulders, and abdomen. While medications are often prescribed to remove gallstones, surgery may be required in severe cases.
Splenic sequestration - This occurs when a cluster of sickle cells block the splenic vessels. Common symptoms include rapid breathing, pale lips, extreme thirst, sudden weakness, and abdominal pain. Blood transfusion may be required urgently to treat the condition.
Infections - Damage to the spleen caused by sickle cells may make you prone to a range of infections, including pneumonia, common flu, and meningitis. These types of infections are usually characterized by signs, such as high fever, coughing, body aches, and fatigue, and can affect your immunity before you know it.
Leg ulcers - Leg ulcers are common in people with sickle cell anaemia. A person who develops leg ulcers (open sores in the skin of the legs) is likely to notice swelling, heaviness, or an aching sensation in the legs.
Topical ointments, antibiotics, and compression bandages may be used to manage the condition.
Stroke - A blockage in the blood vessels in the brain may lead to a stroke. Immediate medical attention is required if you experience symptoms, such as slurred speech, headaches, difficulty memorizing, walking, or moving the arms, drooping or numbness on one side of the body etc.
Even though complications of sickle cell anaemia are not always preventable, there are certain ways to lower their risk and severity. Here is what you can do –
Most importantly, follow up with your doctor if you have sickle cell anaemia to get tested for any of the above conditions and to reduce the risk of harmful complications.