The symptoms of sickle cell anemia vary from person to person, even within the same family.
Common symptoms include:
- prolonged pain;
- abdominal swelling (swollen spleen);
- respiratory difficulties;
- painful, long-lasting erections;
- neck stiffness (torticollis);
- weakness or numbness in the arms or legs;
- vision problems;
- severe stomach ache.
A person with sickle cell anemia will have chronic anemia and frequent pain crises in various parts of the body. Crises often occur when blood flow is obstructed by clusters of misshapen cells. The pain, which is very debilitating, can vary in severity (mild to acute) and last a long time or go away quickly.
If you notice these signs and symptoms in your child, see a doctor. Sickle cell anemia is often diagnosed in early childhood.
If your child has been diagnosed with sickle cell anemia, the guide Sickle Cell Disease: A Family Handbook is an essential document that will help you recognize your child's symptoms and learn the best ways to relieve them. If your child develops these symptoms, they must see a doctor promptly. As soon as possible, call your specialized centre and go to the hematology clinic or emergency room.
Preventing pain crises
Pain crises are frequent and very debilitating for people who have sickle cell anemia. If you have sickle cell anemia, you can prevent pain crises. Here are some things you can do:
- watch for the development of signs and symptoms of the disease;
- follow a healthy, balanced diet that is high in protein and folic acid, for example, by eating more legumes, dark green vegetables, whole oranges or orange juice;
- practice good body and dental hygiene;
- drink plenty of water;
- avoid needless stress;
- avoid situations that lower your oxygen levels:
- travelling in a non-pressurized aircraft (1500-2000 m),
- poorly ventilated places,
- walking outdoors in extreme cold temperatures without being dressed properly,
- swimming in cold water;
- exercise regularly, making sure you drink enough fluids, to increase your cardiopulmonary capacity;
- get vaccinated to prevent infections;
- have regular medical follow-up.