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Retinopathy and Sickle Cell Disease

key information

source: St. Jude Children's Research Hospital


Sickle cell disease is a disorder that causes red blood cells to become sickled (banana-shaped), as well as sticky and rigid. These sickle cells can block blood flow in small blood vessels of the body. The hemoglobin in blood cells carries oxygen to all areas of the body. Sickle cells can block the small blood vessels in the eye depriving the eye of oxygen and causing damage. This is called sickle retinopathy (SR).

What are Some of the Symptoms of SR?

Retinopathy (re ti NAH poh thee) is a disorder that can continue to get worse. It can occur in one or both eyes. Early damage does not usually affect the person’s ability to see. Retinopathy can go undetected for years without an eye exam by a trained eye doctor (ophthalmologist). The eye doctors in the St. Jude Eye Clinic have been treating people with sickle cell disease for many years, and they are familiar with SR. Sickle retinopathy can progress to severe proliferative sickle cell retinopathy (PSR). PSR can cause bleeding into the eye or detachment of the retina. It can lead to vision changes and, in rare cases, blindness.


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