What Happens in Sickle Cell
The root cause of sickle cell starts with a process called hemoglobin polymerization. Polymerization changes the shape of red blood cells and impacts their ability to carry oxygen throughout the body.
Why do red blood cells form a sickle shape?
Red blood cells contain a protein called hemoglobin, which is responsible for carrying oxygen.
- When the hemoglobin molecules are carrying oxygen, they move around the blood cell freely
- People with sickle cell have a type of hemoglobin that does not carry oxygen as well
- After sickle hemoglobin releases oxygen, it clumps together in a stiff rod inside the red blood cell, causing it to change shape or sickle
When you have sickle cell disease, red blood cells are sickling and continue to cause damage and injury even when you do not feel any pain. The silent damage of sickle cell is caused by these three things:
- Hemolysis – The breakdown of red blood cells
- Anemia – Having too few healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues
- Vaso-occlusion – Blockage of blood vessels by sickled red blood cells, which can lead to pain crises and organ damage
Recently, researchers have learned a lot more about these changes and what causes them.