Sickle Cell Anemia in Children

Sickle cell anemia is a genetic condition that causes red blood cells to become hard, sticky and sickle-shaped instead of round. This leads to episodes of pain and other complications.

Remarkable Care for Kids

  • Expert care: Doctors at Rush who specialize in treating adults and children with blood disorders are involved in clinical and laboratory research. This extensive experience gives them a deeper understanding of blood conditions.
  • Clinical trials: At Rush, you’ll have access to the latest treatments being tested in clinical trials, including new medications for sickle cell anemia.

What is sickle cell anemia?

The sickle shape (which looks like a crescent or the letter C) makes it more difficult for red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. In addition, sickle-shaped cells die off earlier than normal cells, so there are never enough red blood cells in the body.

This can result in severe pain, infections, stroke and acute chest syndrome, a pneumonia-like condition that is life-threatening.

Treatment for sickle cell anemia can control symptoms and prevent pain, infection and other serious problems.

Symptoms of sickle cell anemia

Sickle cell anemia can be diagnosed at birth during a baby’s newborn screen blood testing before any symptoms of the disease develop. The symptoms for sickle cell disease are varied and can range from mild to severe.

Call your child’s pediatrician or primary care doctor if you are concerned about any of the symptoms listed below:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Pale skin
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Headache
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Swelling in the hands and feet, sometimes with fever
  • Pain, which can be sudden and severe and most often appears in the upper back or left arm, though it may also appear in the chest, lower back, legs or other parts of the body
  • Fever and infections
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Causes of sickle cell anemia

Sickle cell anemia occurs when a baby inherits an abnormal hemoglobin gene from each parent. When a baby inherits a sickle cell gene from only one parent, it’s called sickle cell trait. People with sickle cell trait do not have sickle cell disease, but they can pass the gene along to their children.

In the United States, most people with sickle cell anemia have African ancestry. But the condition affects people of all backgrounds and ethnicities.

How can I get help for sickle cell anemia?

Your child’s pediatrician or primary care doctor will perform an examination and order tests.

You will be referred to a pediatric hematologist (a doctor who specializes in blood disorders) at Rush for treatment by a team of experts who are experienced in treating this complicated and serious disease.

Care for sickle cell anemia at Rush

Because sickle cell anemia is complex, a team of specialists at Rush provide treatment and help manage the symptoms of this condition. The primary treatments for sickle cell anemia include:

  • Transfusions: A blood transfusion may be indicated for some complications of sickle cell disease.
  • Medication: Your doctor may prescribe hydroxyuria, a drug that can help control the symptoms of sickle cell anemia in children and adults. This medicine encourages the production of fetal hemoglobin, which helps prevent red blood cells from becoming sickle-shaped. Pediatric hematologists at Rush also have access to several new medications that have recently become available for the management of more severe forms of sickle cell disease.