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What’s going on in the sickle-cell blood?

what causes pain in the sickle-cell personOur body is made up of blood vessels carrying blood to every corner of the body. Freshly oxygenated blood is carried from the lungs to the heart which pumps blood around the body through the arteries.

Look at this diagram:

The red vessels carry blood with oxygen (oxygenated blood) from the heart to all parts of the body.

The blue vessels, called veins carry blood (deoxygenated blood) back to the heart from the body.


Our blood is in a fluid form. This fluid is called Plasma and it is made up 3 main things.

Red Blood Cells: They are disc shaped, and carry oxygen to all body tissues. They are also called erythrocytes. These are the cells that give blood the red colour.

White Blood Cells: They are usually fewer that red blood cells. They fight infections like cold, sore throats and other viruses. They are also called leukocytes.

Platelets: These help in clotting blood when we wound ourselves. They are called thrombocytes.

The Sickle Cell is an abnormality in the Red Blood Cells.

Let's see the illustration below:
abnormal blood cell

Normally, red blood cells have a round, flexible shape that is slightly thicker around the edges than in the middle. They can bend and flex easily, and so travel around the blood vessels easily.

In sickle cell disease, the red blood cells can change shape to a hard crescent moon or ‘sickle’ shape which means that they can clump together in the blood vessels and cause blockage.

When this happens, blood with oxygen cannot get to the some tissue and this causes sever pain. This can also lead to organ damage because the tissues aren't getting enough oxygen.

...not all the Red Blood Cells of a sickle-cell person are sickle-shaped. There are normal red blood cells in the blood stream too

...sickle cells have a shorter-than-normal life span, which leads to anemia (low RBC count). A normal red blood cell lives for about 120 days in circulation, whereas a sickle cell lives for only 10 to 20 days.

...the farmer's sickle is where the abnormal red-blood cell got it's name from. This is because its' shape is like that of a farmer's sickle

sickle cell

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