Sickle cell disease (SCD) can cause severe complications. These complications appear when the sickle cells block vessels in different areas of the body. These painful or damaging blockages are called sickle cell crises.
Some of the complications includes;
Anemia is a shortage of red blood cells. This breaking apart of red blood cells is called chronic hemolysis. Red blood cells (RBCs) generally live for about 120 days. Sickle cells live for a maximum of 10 to 20 days.
Hand-Foot Syndrome occurs when sickle-shaped Red Blood Cells block blood vessels in the hands or feet. This causes the hands and feet to swell. It can also cause leg ulcers. Swollen hands and feet are often the first sign of sickle cell anemia in babies.
Splenic sequestration is a blockage of the splenic vessels by sickle cells. It causes a sudden, painful enlargement of the spleen.
Delayed growth often occurs in people with SCD. Children are generally shorter but regain their height by adulthood. Sexual maturation may also be delayed. This happens because sickle cell RBCs can’t supply enough oxygen and nutrients. Neurological complications include seizures, bleeding in the brain, or even coma. They are caused by brain blockages. Immediate treatment should be sought.
Blindness is caused by blockages in the vessels supplying the eyes. This can damage the retina.
Skin ulcers in the legs can occur if small vessels there are blocked.
Heart Disease and Chest Syndrome
Since SCD interferes with blood oxygen supply, it affects the blood vessels. Over time, this can lead to an enlarged heart and subsequent heart disease. This can also lead to pain known as chest syndrome. High blood pressure (hypertension) and stroke may also develop.
Priapism is a lingering, painful erection that can be seen in some men with sickle cell. This happens when the blood vessels in the penis are blocked. It can lead to impotence if left untreated.
Gallstones are one complication not caused by a vessel blockage. Instead, they are caused by the breakdown of RBCs. A byproduct of this breakdown is bilirubin. High levels of bilirubin can lead to gallstones. These are also called pigment stones.