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Symptoms of Sickle Cell Disease

Symptoms of sickle cell disease appear in a baby's first year of life.

The disease causes bouts of pain. These are called pain crises. Symptoms depend on which tissues or organs are affected.

Symptoms may be:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Swollen hands and feet
  • Pain in the:
    • Chest
    • Belly
    • Arms and legs
    • Bones and joints
    • Penis—from long erections
  • Symptoms of anemia, such as:
    • Tiredness, headache, or lightheadedness
    • Breathing problems
  • Yellowish eyes and skin—jaundice

Sickle cell disease can lead to other conditions. They may be:

  • Heart and blood vessel problems, such as:
  • Skin and gum problems
  • Vision problems
  • Kidney infections and kidney damage
  • Bone problems
  • Problems with the spleen, liver, or gallbladder
  • Delayed puberty
  • Learning and behavior problems

Pain crisis can be triggered by:

  • Smoking
  • Exercise
  • Changes in oxygen levels and air pressure
  • Fever or infection
  • Dehydration

Pinto VM, Balocco M, Quintino, et al. Sickle cell disease: a review for the internist. Intern Emerg Med. 2019 Oct;14(7):1051-1064.

Sickle cell disease. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/sickle-cell-anemia.html. Accessed January 29, 2021.

Sickle cell disease in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/sickle-cell-disease-in-adults-and-adolescents . Accessed March 3, 2021.

Sickle cell disease in infants and children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/sickle-cell-disease-in-infants-and-children Accessed March 3, 2021.

What are the signs and symptoms of sickle cell disease? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sca/signs. Accessed January 29, 2021.

Last reviewed March 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD  Last Updated: 3/3/2021