All Children's Hospital Logo

Health Information Library

Parents > A to Z > S > A to Z: Sickle Cell Disease
A to Z: Sickle Cell Disease

A to Z: Sickle Cell Disease

May also be called: SCD; Sickle Cell Anemia

Sickle cell disease is an inherited disorder in which red blood cells (RBCs) are abnormally shaped. This abnormality can result in painful episodes, serious infections, chronic anemia, and damage to body organs.

More to Know

Normally, RBCs have a round, doughnut shape and move easily through small blood vessels. Sickle cell disease causes RBCs to form in the elongated shape of a sickle, or the shape of the letter "C." These abnormal RBCs have a tendency to get stuck in narrow blood vessels and block the flow of blood. This can cause episodes of pain and lead to organ damage because the tissues aren't getting enough oxygen.

Sickle cells also have a shorter-than-normal life span, which leads to anemia (low RBC count). People with sickle cell disease are also at increased risk for certain bacterial infections and stroke.

Sickle cell disease is caused by a defect in the genes that affect hemoglobin, a protein found in RBCs that transports oxygen throughout the body. If a child inherits a sickle cell gene from each parent, he or she will have sickle cell disease. If the child inherits one sickle cell gene and one normal gene, he or she will have sickle cell trait. People with sickle cell trait usually have no symptoms, but they can pass the sickle cell gene on to their children.

In most cases, treatment for sickle cell disease involves medicines to help manage the pain, and immunizations and daily doses of penicillin (an antibiotic) to help prevent infection. Severe anemia may be treated with blood transfusions.

Keep in Mind

Thanks to advancements in early diagnosis and treatment, most kids born with sickle cell disease grow up to live relatively healthy and productive lives. The disease is a constant presence, though, so seek immediate medical attention for any signs of infection, severe anemia, chest pain, or seizures.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

Related Articles
K    About Anemia
P    Anemia
T    Anemia
T    Blood
P    Blood Transfusions
T    Blood Transfusions
K    Do You Know About Sickle Cell Anemia?
P    Genetic Counseling
P    Genetic Testing
T    My Friend Has Sickle Cell Disease. How Can I Help?
T    Sickle Cell Anemia
P    Sickle Cell Disease
P    Sickle Cell Disease Special Needs Factsheet
P    Sickle Cell Disease: Mike's Story (Video)
T    Sickle Cell Disease: Mike's Story (Video)
P    Sickle Cell Disease: Theresa's Story (Video)
T    Sickle Cell Disease: Theresa's Story (Video)
K    The Truth About Transfusions
T    Transitioning Your Medical Care: Sickle Cell Disease
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2015 KidsHealth® All rights reserved. Images provided by iStock, Getty Images, Corbis, Veer, Science Photo Library, Science Source Images, Shutterstock, and

Additional Info

Pocket Doc Mobile App
Maps and Locations (Mobile)
Programs & Services
For Health Professionals
For Patients & Families
Contact Us
Find a Doctor

All Children's Hospital
501 6th Ave South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
(727) 898-7451
(800) 456-4543

Use Normal Template
© 2015 All Children's Hospital - All Rights Reserved