What is sickle cell anemia?

Sickle cell anemia is an inherited form of anemia that often causes pain.

Normal red blood cells are smooth and flexible. Shaped like the letter O they easily move through your blood vessels. Sickle cells become rigid and sticky and are shaped like the letter C. These oddly shaped cells tend to cluster together and get stuck in the small blood vessels slowing or blocking blood flow and oxygen.

The Care you Deserve

There is no cure for sickle cell anemia but treatment can relieve pain and help with complications. 

Our hematologists are part of the UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center which is a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. This designation means that the doctors taking care of you are experts in cancer and blood disorder treatment, research and education.


Understanding the symptoms

Signs and symptoms of sickle cell anemia may include:

  • Easily tired

  • Anemia

  • Episodes of pain

  • Painful swelling in hands and feet

  • Frequent infections

  • Delayed growth

  • Vision problems

When to see your doctor

Because there is no cure, receiving routine follow-up with your doctor is important. If you notice any of the following, please contact us immediately:

  • Fever

  • New areas of pain

  • Swelling in the hands and feet

  • Pale skin or nail beds

  • Yellow tint to skin or eyes

  • Stroke-like symptoms: weakness, confusion, trouble walking or talking, severe headache


Treatments to reduce complications

  • Medications including pain-relievers and antibiotics and are used to reduce pain and prevent complications

  • Blood transfusion. This is a routine medical procedure where donated blood is used to replace blood you have lost.

  • Bone marrow transplant.

Fighting Cancer and Blood Disorders

At UW Health, we offer the most advanced treatment options. Our cancer and blood disorder experts are national research leaders. We test new therapies and continue to work on therapies for cancer and blood disorders.

Search our Clinical Trials

Your team

Experts that are here for you

Your care is our top priority and we understand the unique needs you have.

Your team will include

  • Oncologists (cancer doctors)

  • Hematologists (blood disease doctors)

  • Nurse practitioners

  • Nurses

  • Pain management specialists

  • Genetic counselors

  • Social workers

  • Infusion specialists

Our providers

UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center

The experts at the UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center intimately understand every type of cancer. We will get to know you and design a treatment plan that works for you and your family.

Learn more


Care near you

Patient and support services

More ways we can help

These are informational resources to help you learn more about sickle cell anemia.