Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle cell disease includes a group of related disorders that affect a person's red blood cells. It is caused by a change in the genes that make hemoglobin which is the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen.  Normal red blood cells and sickle-shaped cells.

With sickle cell disease, a person's red blood cells can become hard, sticky, and sickle shaped. The blood cells look curved or have a rounded bend or crescent shape. In a healthy person, red blood cells have a round, donut shape.   

There are several types of sickle cell disease, the most common being Sickle Cell Anemia (Hb SS Disease). Other types of sickle cell disease  are caused by different variations in hemoglobin that in combination with hemoglobin S may cause problems. 

Who It Affects

It affects males and females equally. Sickle cell disease is inherited. That means it is passed from mothers and fathers to their children when both parents have the disease or trait. It is not contagious meaning it is not spread by touching or being close to someone who has this condition. 

People of many ethnic groups can have sickle cell disease. It is most common in persons of African descent, but it is also found in persons whose ancestors come from Asia, India, Indigenous America, Latin America, Mediterranean, and Middle East regions. All Texas newborns are screened for sickle cell disease as well as more than 50 other conditions. 

What Happens 

People with sickle cell disease have periods of well-being and stages of illness. The periods of illness are called sickle cell crises. Sickle cell disease can cause serious health complications that can include pneumonia, organ damage, swelling of hands and feet, chest pains and trouble breathing, blood in urine, fever, stroke, leg ulcers, infections, jaundice, gallstones, anemia, as well as painful erections in men and complications during pregnancy.

Early treatment is essential. Some treatments are still being researched. Sickle cell disease can be controlled by:  

  • Medications 
  • Blood transfusions 
  • Oxygen therapy 
  • Intravenous fluids 
  • Vitamin supplements 

It can be cured by a bone marrow transplant. 

More about Sickle Cell Disease 

Learn more about sickle cell disease including information for parents and healthcare providers, other types of hemoglobin conditions, and potential complications. 

Sickle Cell Resources 

View sickle cell resources including consultant and provider lists, educational information and videos, direct service and support organizations as well as other information. 

Sickle Cell Trait 

Learn about sickle cell trait which is a blood condition in which a person inherits one gene with normal hemoglobin and one with sickle hemoglobin. 


This site and related educational materials do not take the place of an informed discussion between a patient and their healthcare provider. External links to other sites are intended to be informational and do not have the endorsement of the Texas Department of State Health Services. Those sites may not be accessible to persons with disabilities.

Last updated May 21, 2018