Hemolysis is the breakdown of red blood cells. In sickle cell, red blood cells are fragile and break down faster than they should. When red blood cells break down, they burst open and release everything into the bloodstream, resulting in fewer red blood cells available to carry oxygen throughout the body.

Signs & Symptoms of Hemolysis

Knowing your numbers and talking to your doctor can help you track signs and symptoms of hemolysis, such as the following:

  • Bilirubin: yellow substance released into the bloodstream when red blood cells break down
    • Too much bilirubin can cause the eyes, skin and nails to turn yellow, which is called jaundice
  • Reticulocytes: new or baby red blood cells
    • High levels of reticulocytes mean that the body is working quickly to replace broken-down red blood cells

Talk to your doctor if you notice yellowing to help you receive the best care and develop a plan to get yourself feeling better.

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:

  • The break down of red blood cells means there are less in the body to carry oxygen
  • Hemolysis leads to fewer red blood cells, which is also considered anemia
  • Over time, hemolysis, anemia, and vaso-occlusion can lead to chronic damage to tissues, organs, and bones