What is the shape of a sickle cell?

Have you ever wondered what’s up with sickle cells? Yes, those weirdly shaped blood cells that cause so much trouble for people with sickle cell anemia. You might think they look like little crescent moons or boomerangs, but it’s not quite that simple. In this article, we’ll explore the unique and fascinating shape of these notorious blood cells.

The Basics: Red Blood Cells

Before we dive into the specifics of sickle cells, let’s start by talking about red blood cells in general. These are the tiny, disk-shaped cells that carry oxygen throughout your body via your bloodstream. Normally, they’re biconcave disks which means both sides dip inward like a shallow bowl (imagine a miniature UFO but without aliens on board). They’re specifically designed to pack in as much hemoglobin as possible while still being able to squeeze through even the tiniest capillaries.

The Abnormality of Sickle Cells

So if normal red blood cells are nice and round like Cheerios, how do sickle cells end up looking so…weird? Well my friend, this is where things get interesting. See normally erythrocytes (another fancy term for RBCs) move easily through all types of vessels because they can bend or contort themselves when necessary – kind of like water balloons sliding down a hosepipe. But now imagine trying to slide one jenga block past another, only instead made out soft wax blocks which can become deformed over time causing them to lodge or stick faster than initially expected- That’s sorta what happens when there isn’t enough oxygen around; instead their normally pliable surfaces become increasingly brittle making it difficult for them to pass down narrow spaces without getting stuck ! When someone has sickle cell anemia however because their haemoglobin proteins are deformed or aggulated the cells become too rigid and sticky to do that. So they don’t fit through those tiny, winding blood vessels very well – cue pain and myriad complications just like flower petals wedged in a bottleneck.

The Unique Shape of Sickle Cells

Alright, enough with the science – let’s talk about what sickle cells actually look like. As we’ve established, normal red blood cells are rounded but because of its genetic abnormality sickle cell RBCs are somewhere between banana-shaped, boomerang-like rhomboids worn from decades-long wind erosion at the beachfront (definitely not as tasty). Indeed no two cells may be alike; some may have crescent shapes while others may appear curved or almost comma-like. They’re also smaller than regular red blood cells and can clump together which makes it difficult for them to move smoothly within your circulatory system.

What Causes Sickle Cell Shaping?

The reason sickle cells take on their unique shape has everything to do with hemoglobin – that iron-rich protein necessary for carrying oxygen throughout our bodies. People born with sickle cell anemia produce an abnormal type of hemoglobin called ‘hemoglobin S’. Under certain conditions- such reduced oxygen levels due low pressures or high altitudes- these molecules start sticking together forming long chains inside RBCs causing them wilt into often startlingly odd shapes like spikes among other phantasmagoric forms before finally coming around full circle ending up on hunter-gatherers’ spears! And when one cell starts looking funny? Several more join in until eventually you end up with a bunch of knit-but-disjointed chain-link fences trying miserably to act as single-unit grapplers .

A Brief Anatomy Lesson on Hemoglobin

For anyone curious about how exactly hemoglobin works: it’s able to bind both oxygen and carbon dioxide thanks to the presence of iron molecules in its makeup. This is what allows RBCs to pick up oxygen in our lungs and deliver it throughout the body (and then grab CO2 on their way back for expulsion). But when they become deoxygenated, hemoglobin molecules begin clumping together which causes cell membranes to warp or distort – thus giving us sickle cells.

The Consequences of Sickle Cell Shaping

As we mentioned earlier, sickle cells aren’t great at passing through tight spaces like those found within blood vessels or capillaries- culminating into obstructions that cause bunch of impairments including excruciating pain, kidney damage, cardiac issues along with ocular damages due haemorrhages among many other health complications- who knew a funny shaped cell out of place could be so troublesome? Sometimes these cells will get stuck all together creating full blown vascular inflammation known as infarction ! This can lead to acute chest pain called ‘acute chest syndrome’ where one may experience shortness breath accompanied by fever. Over time chronic organ dysfunction develops leading towards conditions such as liver cirrhosis, stroke and pulmonary hypertension– each bearing their own unique sets symptoms! It’s no laughing matter folks!


So there you have it – an inside look at the fascinating shape of sickle cells. Though they might not be winning any beauty contests anytime soon, there’s no denying just how important these little crescent-shaped cells are (or conversely alarming some PHDs about them being idolized!). They remind us that genetics play a significant role in our lives-and if things go awry-i.e., diseases wherein mutations occur causing different forms shapes within bloodstreams-, can oftentimes take center stage with detrimental consequences affecting our daily existence while simultaneously brimming over with scientific knowledge eye-opening enough to evoke awe-inspiring wonder.


‘Sickle-ing around can be a pain (literally!), but it’s just proof our bodies are full of surprises. Next time someone tells you that red blood cells are boring, show them a picture of a sickle cell and watch their jaws drop..or plant one into our sides so we learned never to trifle with normalcy again!’

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