For people with sickle cell, the hemoglobin in the red blood cells clumps together (polymerizes) and causes the red blood cells to change into a sickle, or banana shape. This can trigger other things to happen in the body, including 3 very serious consequences:
1. Hemolysis - Polymerization and sickling can cause red blood cells to break down. The breakdown of red blood cells is called hemolysis.
2. Anemia - The breakdown of red blood cells can cause anemia. Anemia is a condition where there is a less than normal amount of red blood cells. This type of anemia isn’t caused by a lack of iron in the blood.
3. Pain Crises - Polymerization, which causes red blood cells to sickle, can lead to pain crises also known as vaso-occlusions. These occur when sickled red blood cells stick to each other and to other cells, blocking blood flow and oxygen delivery.
When many people think about sickle cell, they only think about the painful crises that can put those living with sickle cell in the hospital. Many don't realize that sickle cell is more than that.
Sickle cell is a 365-day-a-year condition. That can mean living with day-to-day fatigue, yellow eyes from jaundice, and shortness of breath—all things you can easily feel and see.
But in addition, damage from sickle cell is always happening even if you don’t have pain crises or feel sick at all. Even when you feel fine, sickle cell may be causing damage. This damage can mean harm for many parts of your body.
Labs and screenings help you and your doctor to proactively manage your sickle cell.
They can show if you are becoming anemic, if your blood cells are making too few red blood cells, if the red blood cells are breaking down too quickly, or if there are any other changes happening in your body.
There are some basics that can help you manage your sickle cell successfully. Be sure to see your doctor regularly and establish an open dialogue so you can get the care you need.
Knowing your numbers is important
Your doctor may check your lab reports for the following levels:
Knowing your labs can tell you and your doctor if you have or are at risk for anemia or any other damage or complications from sickle cell.