ComplicationsBy Mayo Clinic staff
Sickle cell anemia can lead to a host of complications, including:
- Stroke. A stroke can occur if sickle cells block blood flow to an area of your brain. Signs of stroke include seizures, weakness or numbness of your arms and legs, sudden speech difficulties, and loss of consciousness. If your baby or child has any of these signs and symptoms, seek medical treatment immediately. A stroke can be fatal.
- Acute chest syndrome. This life-threatening complication of sickle cell anemia causes chest pain, fever and difficulty breathing. Acute chest syndrome can be caused by a lung infection or by sickle cells blocking blood vessels in your lungs. It may require emergency medical treatment with antibiotics and other treatments.
- Pulmonary hypertension. People with sickle cell anemia can also develop high blood pressure in their lungs (pulmonary hypertension). Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing are common symptoms of this condition, which can be fatal.
- Organ damage. Sickle cells can block blood flow through blood vessels, immediately depriving an organ of blood and oxygen. In sickle cell anemia, blood is also chronically low on oxygen. Chronic deprivation of oxygen-rich blood can damage nerves and organs in your body, including your kidneys, liver and spleen. Organ damage can be fatal.
- Blindness. Tiny blood vessels that supply your eyes can get blocked by sickle cells. Over time, this can damage the retina — the portion of the eye that processes visual images — and lead to blindness.
- Skin ulcers. Sickle cell anemia can cause open sores, called ulcers, on your legs.
- Gallstones. The breakdown of red blood cells produces a substance called bilirubin. A high level of bilirubin in your body can lead to gallstones.
- Priapism. Men with sickle cell anemia may experience painful, long-lasting erections, a condition called priapism. As occurs in other parts of the body, sickle cells can block the blood vessels in the penis. This can damage the penis and eventually lead to impotence.
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- Rees DC, et al. Sickle-cell disease. The Lancet. 2010;376:2018.
- Sickle cell anemia. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Sca/SCA_All.html. Accessed Jan. 24, 2011.