One of the complications of sickle cell is vaso-occlusion, more commonly known as a pain crisis.

The breakdown of vaso-occlusion:

  • Vaso = Blood vessels
  • Occlusion = Blocked up

So, vaso-occlusion means that blood vessels become blocked up.

Unlike healthy red blood cells which are round and flexible, sickled cells are stiff and sticky and do not move freely through the blood vessels. These sickled cells can pile up and block blood flow inside the blood vessels, keeping healthy red blood cells carrying oxygen from getting to where they need to go.

Vaso-occlusion can cause:

  • In the short-term: pain. That’s the pain that people with sickle cell know so well and suffer with so much. The pain can come on suddenly or build up over a few days. This pain is known as a pain crisis.
  • In the long-term, vaso-occlusion along with hemolysis and anemia, can cause silent damage. Silent damage to your tissue, organs and bones can continue even after the pain goes away, leading to long-term complications.

Sickled Cells Causing a Blockage in a Blood Vessel

Animated GIF that zooms in on the inside of a blood vessel as sickled red blood cells form a pile up and create a blockage in the vessel