Sickle Cell Disease: Preventing Problems and Staying Healthy
Home treatment for sickle cell disease includes steps you can take not only to control pain symptoms but also to prevent some of the complications caused by the disease. These complications include painful sickle cell crises.
Have a pain management plan
If you and your doctor have developed a pain management plan for home treatment of symptoms, be sure to follow your plan.
Drink water and other fluids. Drink enough so that your urine is light yellow or clear like water. Drink extra fluids before, during, and after exertion and when in the heat. Drink plenty of fluid if you have a fever or infection. Children should keep a water bottle with them during school, play, and outings.
If you exercise strenuously, rest when you feel tired and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Dehydration and reduced oxygen levels in a person's blood resulting from strenuous exercise may cause red blood cells to sickle.
Children with sickle cell disease can usually exercise and play normally if they:
Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercise. Dehydration can cause cells to sickle.
Get regular rest breaks during vigorous exercise.
Stay warm. Exposure to cold air, wind, and water can trigger a sickle cell crisis. Dress children in warm layers of clothing for cold-weather activities. Avoid swimming and playing in cold water.
Prevent problems at high altitude or during air travel
High altitudes. The air at high altitudes, such as in an unpressurized airplane or in the mountains at altitudes greater than 5,000 ft (1,524 m), has less oxygen than at sea level. The lack of oxygen can cause cells to sickle. If you spend time at high altitudes, drink plenty of water and fluids to prevent dehydration.
Air travel. Large passenger airplanes are pressurized. But a person with sickle cell disease may have a sickling problem even when flying in a pressurized airplane. Most people won't have problems if they are flying only for a short time (less than 4 to 6 hours) and drink plenty of fluids during the flight.
Exposure to cold air, wind, and water may cause a painful event by triggering red blood cell sickling in exposed areas of the body.
Dress warmly in cold weather. Dress in layers to avoid sudden temperature change. When possible, avoid situations where you might become cold.
Learn to recognize serious symptoms. Partner with your doctor, using your experience with the disease and your doctor's expertise. Make a plan for how to treat pain at home and when to seek medical care for severe pain and symptoms. Know when to call your doctor or when you need emergency help.
Meremikwu MM, Okomo U (2011). Sickle cell disease, search date March 2010. BMJ Clinical Evidence. Available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health (2002). The Management of Sickle Cell Disease (NIH Publication No. 02-2117). Available online: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/prof/blood/sickle/.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerMartin H. Steinberg, MD - Hematology