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Sickle Cell Disease

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Treatment Overview

Treatment involves getting routine tests to monitor health, managing pain events (crises), and treating related health problems as they arise.

Treatment for severe cases of sickle cell disease may include medicines. For more information, see Medications.

Treatment for children

When parents learn that their baby has sickle cell disease, it's the beginning of a lifelong education process. Knowing as much as you can about the disease can help you control symptoms as they arise and know what to do in emergency situations. Treatment includes:

  • Routine childhood immunizations. Immunizations in adulthood are important too.
  • Daily antibiotics from 2 months to 5 years of age to prevent life-threatening infections. This practice stops at age 5 because older children don't have as many severe infections.
  • Multivitamin supplements with iron during infancy.
  • Folic acid supplements daily.
  • Protein supplements if there is a lag in weight gain.

Starting at age 2 years, your child should get screened every now and then with a transcranial ultrasound. This test measures blood flow in the arteries of the head and neck. If test results show a high chance for stroke, your child may get blood transfusions to lower the risk.1

Tests to monitor treatment

Routine tests include:

Managing pain

Pain is sometimes a chronic problem for people with sickle cell disease. Your doctor or a pain treatment specialist can help you develop pain management skills. These skills include distraction, guided imagery, deep breathing, relaxation, and positive self-talk.

Painful events can happen suddenly and unpredictably and can become life-threatening. Bouts of severe pain can last for hours to days and are difficult to treat. They're exhausting for caregivers as well as for the person in pain. For more information, see the topic Chronic Pain.

Severe episodes of prolonged erection of the penis (priapism) need evaluation by your doctor. Treatment may include fluids (hydration), pain medicines, treatment by a urologist, and blood transfusions.

There are also things you can do at home to manage pain. To learn more, see Home Treatment.

What to think about

A series of blood transfusions is the treatment of choice to prevent strokes and treat other aspects of sickle cell disease. Stem cell transplant is a rare treatment. For more information, see Other Treatment.

People with sickle cell disease should avoid contact with anyone suspected of having fifth disease, which is caused by parvovirus. Parvovirus can cause the body to temporarily stop making blood cells, a severe life-threatening problem in someone who has sickle cell disease. Aplastic anemia can occur as a result of a shortage of red blood cells. It can come on suddenly and is life-threatening if not treated.

People with sickle cell disease and their families face ongoing stress. For help coping, see Home Treatment.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 01, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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