Sickle Cell (cont.)

Medical Author:

What conditions promote the sickling (distortion) of the red blood cells in sickle cell anemia?

Sickling of the red blood cells in patients with sickle cell anemia results in cells of abnormal shape and diminished flexibility. The sickling is promoted by conditions which are associated with low oxygen levels, increased acidity, or low volume (dehydration) of the blood. These conditions can occur as a result of injury to the body's tissues, dehydration, or anesthesia.

Certain organs are predisposed to lower oxygen levels or acidity, such as when blood moves slowly through the spleen, liver, or kidney. Also, organs with particularly high metabolism rates (such as the brain, muscles, and the placenta in a pregnant woman with sickle cell anemia) promote sickling by extracting more oxygen from the blood. These conditions make these organs susceptible to injury from sickle cell anemia.

How is sickle cell anemia diagnosed?

Sickle cell anemia is suggested when the abnormal sickle-shaped cells in the blood are identified under a microscope. Testing is typically performed on a smear of blood using a special low-oxygen preparation. This is referred to as a sickle prep. Other prep tests can also be used to detect the abnormal hemoglobin S, including solubility tests performed on tubes of blood solutions. The disease can be confirmed by specifically quantifying the types of hemoglobin present using a hemoglobin electrophoresis.

Prenatal diagnosis (before birth) of sickle cell anemia is possible using amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling. The sample obtained is then tested for DNA analysis of the fetal cells.

The hemoglobin electrophoresis test precisely identifies the hemoglobins in the blood by separating them. The separation of the different hemoglobins is possible because of the unique electrical charges they each have on their protein surfaces, causing them each to move characteristically in an electrical field as tested in the laboratory.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/4/2014

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Sickle Cell Disease (Sickle Cell Anemia) - Experience Question: Please describe your experience with sickle cell disease (sickle cell anemia).
Sickle Cell Disease (Anemia) - Diagnosis Question: How was your sickle cell anemia diagnosed?
Sickle Cell Disease (Sickle Cell Anemia) - Symptoms Question: At what age did symptoms of sickle cell anemia first appear in someone you know? Please describe other symptoms.