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Symptoms of Sickle Cell Disease

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:

Condition InDepth

Symptoms of Sickle Cell Disease

Symptoms of sickle cell disease appear in a baby's first year of life.

The disease causes periods of pain called pain crises. Symptoms depend on which tissues or organs are affected.

Symptoms may be:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Swollen hands and feet
  • Pain in the:
    • Chest
    • Belly
    • Arms and legs
    • Bones and joints
    • Penis—from long erections
  • Symptoms of anemia, such as:
    • Tiredness, headache, or lightheadedness
    • Breathing problems
  • jaundice—yellowing of the eyes and skin

Sickle cell disease can lead to other issues, such as:

  • Heart and blood vessel problems, such as:
  • Skin and gum problems
  • Vision problems
  • Kidney infections and kidney damage
  • Bone problems
  • Problems with the spleen, liver, or gallbladder
  • Delayed puberty
  • Learning and behavioral problems

Pain crisis can be triggered by:

  • Smoking
  • Exercise
  • Changes in oxygen levels and air pressure
  • Fever or infection
  • Dehydration


  • Pinto VM, Balocco M, et al. Sickle cell disease: a review for the internist. Intern Emerg Med. 2019;14(7):1051-1064.
  • Sickle cell disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/sicklecell/index.html.
  • Sickle cell disease. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/sickle-cell-anemia.html.
  • Sickle cell disease in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/sickle-cell-disease-in-adults-and-adolescents.
  • Sickle cell disease in infants and children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/sickle-cell-disease-in-infants-and-children
  • What is sickle cell disease? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sickle-cell-disease.


  • Kari Kuenn, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.