One of the complications of sickle cell is vaso-occlusion.

The breakdown of vaso-occlusion:

  • Vaso = Blood vessels
  • Occlusion = Blocked up

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

In people with sickle cell, blood vessels get blocked by sickled red blood cells because they have trouble flowing smoothly through the vessels. Instead, they pile up and block the blood vessels. When blood vessels are blocked, the flow of blood is reduced and tissues don’t get the oxygen they need.

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. It can resolve in a few days.
  • 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