Heme is an essential molecule in aerobic organisms. Heme consists of protoporphyrin IX and a ferrous (Fe2+) iron atom, which has high affinity for oxygen (O2). Hemoglobin, the major oxygen-carrying protein in blood, is the most abundant heme-protein in animals and humans. Hemoglobin consists of four globin subunits (α2β 2), with each subunit carrying a heme group. Ferrous (Fe 2+) hemoglobin is easily oxidized in circulation to ferric (Fe 3+) hemoglobin, which readily releases free hemin. Hemin is hydrophobic and intercalates into cell membranes. Hydrogen peroxide can split the heme ring and release "free" redox-active iron, which catalytically amplifies the production of reactive oxygen species. These oxidants can oxidize lipids, proteins, and DNA; activate cell-signaling pathways and oxidant-sensitive, proinflammatory transcription factors; alter protein expression; perturb membrane channels; and induce apoptosis and cell death. Heme-derived oxidants induce recruitment of leukocytes, platelets, and red blood cells to the vessel wall; oxidize low-density lipoproteins; and consume nitric oxide. Heme metabolism, extracellular and intracellular defenses against heme, and cellular cytoprotective adaptations are emphasized. Sickle cell disease, an archetypal example of hemolysis, heme-induced oxidative stress, and cytoprotective adaptation, is reviewed.