Hemolysis is the breakdown of red blood cells. In sickle cell, red blood cells breakdown faster than they should to be able to supply the body with all the oxygen it needs. This process results in fewer red blood cells.

Illustrated diagram demonstrating the process of hemolysis leading to anemia

How long do red blood cells live?

Sickled red blood cells don’t live as long as healthy red blood cells do. Here’s the difference:

  • Healthy red blood cells live about 120 days. They are always traveling through the body and picking up oxygen from the lungs. Then they deliver it throughout the body
  • Sickled red blood cells live for only about 10 to 20 days. That’s because sickled red blood cells are more fragile than healthy round red blood cells

How hemolysis affects your body:

  • Every part of the body needs oxygen. The job of hemoglobin is to make sure that the body gets that oxygen. Hemoglobin is the part of the red blood cell that carries oxygen to all parts of the body
  • Sickled red blood cells break down faster than they should
  • When blood cells break down faster, there are fewer red blood cells (and the hemoglobin inside them) that are working the way they should
  • Fewer red blood cells lead to anemia. Anemia is when your blood is not able to carry enough oxygen throughout your body. The result is that the body doesn’t get all of the oxygen it needs
  • Over time, hemolysis, anemia, and vaso-occlusion can lead to chronic damage to tissues, organs, and bones.