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Painful Events in Sickle Cell Disease

People with sickle cell disease, an inherited condition, have blood cells that can change form, turning from round into a "sickle" or crescent shape. Sickled cells can block the blood supply to parts of the body and cause pain. This pain, mild to severe, can last from hours to days. "Painful event" or "painful crisis" are the terms used to describe these episodes. Some people who have sickle cell disease have many painful events, while others have few or none.

Painful events can affect any part of the body, but the most common areas include the:

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  • Bones of the spine.
  • Bones in the arms and legs.
  • Chest.
  • Abdomen.

It isn't always possible to know what sets off a painful event, but triggers include dehydration, cold temperatures, infection, stress, and low oxygen intake.

You can help avoid painful events by drinking plenty of fluids, especially before, during, and after exercise or strenuous activity and when you have a fever or infection. If possible, try to stay out of chilly weather or situations where you might become cold.

You can also prepare for a painful episode in advance by creating a pain management plan with your doctor. This plan should include not only the types of medicines you can take at home but also other actions you can take at home to relieve pain. Pain medicine may include either over-the-counter items, such as ibuprofen, or stronger medicine prescribed by your doctor. Also, know when it’s best to call for medical help or go to a hospital. Some painful episodes may need IV therapy for fluids and powerful pain medicines, such as morphine, to ease the pain.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Martin Steinberg, MD - Hematology
Last Revised October 7, 2010

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 07, 2010
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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