Chronic hemolytic anemia and intermittent acute pain episodes are the 2 hallmark characteristics of sickle cell disease (SCD). Anemia in SCD not only signals a reduction of red cell mass and oxygen delivery, but also ongoing red cell breakdown and release of cell-free hemoglobin, which together contribute to a number of pathophysiological responses and play a key role in the pathogenesis of cumulative multiorgan damage. However, although anemia is clearly associated with many detrimental outcomes, it may also have an advantage in SCD in lowering risks of potential viscosity-related complications. Until recently, clinical drug development for SCD has predominantly targeted a reduction in the frequency of vaso-occlusive crises as an endpoint, but increasingly, more attention is being directed toward addressing the contribution of chronic anemia to poor outcomes in SCD. This article aims to explore the complex pathophysiology and mechanisms of anemia in SCD, as well as the need to balance the benefits of raising hemoglobin levels with the potential risks of increasing blood viscosity, in the context of the current therapeutic landscape for anemia in SCD.

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