Sickle cell anemia is an inherited form of anemia — a condition in which there aren't enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen throughout your body. Normally, your red blood cells are flexible and round, moving easily through your blood vessels. In sickle cell anemia, the red blood cells become rigid and sticky and are shaped like sickles or crescent moons.
These irregularly shaped cells can get stuck in small blood vessels, which can slow or block blood flow and oxygen to parts of the body.
Sickle cells break apart easily and die, leaving you without enough red blood cells.
Red blood cells usually live for about 120 days before they need to be replaced. But sickle cells usually die in 10 to 20 days, leaving a shortage of red blood cells (anemia).
Periodic episodes of pain, called crises, are a major symptom of sickle cell anemia.
The pain varies in intensity and can last for a few hours to a few weeks. Some people have only a few pain episodes.
Sickle cells can damage an organ that fights infection (spleen), leaving you more vulnerable to infections.