Symptoms usually do not occur until after the age of 4 months.
Almost all people with sickle cell anemia have painful episodes called crises. These can last from hours to days. Crises can cause pain in the lower back, leg, joints, and chest.
Some people have one episode every few years. Others have many episodes each year. The crises can be severe enough to require a hospital stay.
When the anemia becomes more severe, symptoms may include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
Younger children with sickle cell anemia have attacks of abdominal pain.
The following symptoms may occur because small blood vessels become blocked by the abnormal cells:
- Painful and prolonged erection (priapism)
- Poor eyesight or blindness
- Problems with thinking or confusion caused by small strokes
- Ulcers on the lower legs (in adolescents and adults)
Over time, the spleen stops working. As a result, people with sickle cell anemia may have symptoms of infections such as:
- Bone infection (osteomyelitis)
- Gallbladder infection (cholecystitis)
- Lung infection (pneumonia)
- Urinary tract infection
Other signs and symptoms include:
- Delayed growth and puberty
- Painful joints caused by arthritis
- Heart failure due to too much iron (from blood transfusions)