What is sickle cell anemia? Sickle cell anemia is a hereditary disease in which red blood cells are shaped like sickles rather than disks. Sickle cell anemia arises from a mutation in the hemoglobin gene that causes the blood cells to assume an abnormal shape. Sickle-shaped red blood cells have trouble passing through the smallest blood vessels and deliver less oxygen to the tissues of the body. They also increase the risk of blood clots. An estimated two million Americans have at least one copy of the sickle cell gene. Sickle cell anemia is most common in people of African or Mediterranean heritage and is also seen in people of South American, Central American, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern ancestry (Source: NHLBI). Symptoms, which range from infrequent and mild to severe and long term, begin to develop in late infancy. Symptoms include attacks of pain, difficulty breathing, fatigue, paleness, jaundice, and even strokes. These attacks of symptoms, called crises, are often severe enough to require hospitalization and can lead to long-term complications. Although there is currently no cure for sickle cell anemia, its symptoms can be managed. Common treatments include folic acid supplements, pain medication, and fluid supplements, as well as vaccines and antibiotics to control infections. Blood transfusions may be given for severe crises. Sickle cell anemia has many possible complications, including infections, damage to organs, and psychological complications, all of which may require medical intervention. However, with current medical treatments, people with sickle cell anemia can expect to live full lives. Emergency attention is needed for any severe sickle cell anemia crises or complications, including stroke. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for symptoms of a serious crisis or serious infection, including chest pain, confusion or loss of consciousness for even a brief moment, sudden muscle weakness or paralysis, difficulty breathing, high fever, or changes in speech or vision. Seek prompt medical treatment for symptoms of infection, including fever, aches and fatigue.