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What Is Sickle Cell Anemia?

Sickle cell anemia (uh-NEE-me-uh) is the most common form of sickle cell disease (SCD).
SCD is a serious disorder in which the body makes sickle-shaped red blood cells. “Sickle-shaped” means that the red blood cells are shaped like a crescent.

Normal red blood cells are disc-shaped and look like doughnuts without holes in the center. They move easily through your blood vessels. Red blood cells contain an iron-rich protein called hemoglobin (HEE-muh-glow-bin). This protein carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

Sickle cells contain abnormal hemoglobin called sickle hemoglobin orhemoglobin S.Sickle hemoglobin causes the cells to develop a sickle, or crescent, shape.

Sickle cells are stiff and sticky. They tend to block blood flow in the blood vessels of the limbs and organs. Blocked blood flow can cause pain, serious infections, and organ damage.

Normal Red Blood Cells and Sickle Cells

Figure A shows normal red blood cells flowing freely in a blood vessel. The inset image shows a cross-section of a normal red blood cell with normal hemoglobin. Figure B shows abnormal, sickled red blood cells blocking blood flow in a blood vessel. The inset image shows a cross-section of a sickle cell with abnormal (sickle) hemoglobin forming abnormal strands.

Figure A shows normal red blood cells flowing freely in a blood vessel. The inset image shows a cross-section of a normal red blood cell with normal hemoglobin. Figure B shows abnormal, sickled red blood cells blocking blood flow in a blood vessel. The inset image shows a cross-section of a sickle cell with abnormal (sickle) hemoglobin forming abnormal strands.

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By the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute