Sickle Cell Anemia


Sickle cell anemia is a genetic disease that causes your body to break down too many red blood cells (RBCs). RBCs carry oxygen to all the organs and tissues of your body. You get sickle cell anemia if both of your parents have the gene for sickle cell anemia. Your caregiver can confirm you have sickle cell anemia from the shape of your RBCs.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


  • You have a higher risk for infection when you have sickle cell anemia. You may get infections often in your lungs or urinary tract. You may have a sickle cell crisis. This is when you have severe pain and damage to your organs, such as your kidneys or spleen. You may have jaundice if too many RBCs break down. This is when your skin and the whites of your eyes turn yellow. You may develop acute chest syndrome. This is when you have chest pain and trouble breathing. Even with treatment, you may have severe pain. You may feel frustrated, worried, and depressed because of your anemia.

  • Sickle-shaped red blood cells break down much faster than normal cells. The sickle shape of the cells also causes the cells to get stuck in your blood vessels. This blocks the blood vessel, and does not let enough blood flow to where it needs to go in your body. This can cause a stroke or heart attack. You may develop stones in your gallbladder, which can cause pain and other problems. Even with treatment, organs such as your kidneys and liver may stop working. This can be life-threatening. Ask your caregiver for more information about the risks of sickle cell anemia.


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.

Intake and output:

Your caregivers may measure how much liquid you drink. They may also measure your urine.

Pulse oximeter:

A pulse oximeter is a device that measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. A cord with a clip or sticky strip is placed on your finger, ear, or toe. The other end of the cord is hooked to a machine. Never turn the pulse oximeter or alarm off. An alarm will sound if your oxygen level is low or cannot be read.


You may need extra oxygen if your blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. You may get oxygen through a mask placed over your nose and mouth or through small tubes placed in your nostrils. Ask your caregiver before you take off the mask or oxygen tubing.

Incentive spirometry:

You may be taught to use an incentive spirometer to help you take deep breaths. Put the plastic piece into your mouth and slowly take a breath as deep and as long as you can. Hold your breath as long as you can. Then, let out your breath. Do this as often as caregivers tell you to while you are awake.


  • Pain medicine: Caregivers may give you medicine to take away or decrease your pain.

    • Do not wait until the pain is severe to ask for your medicine. Tell caregivers if your pain does not decrease. The medicine may not work as well at controlling your pain if you wait too long to take it.

    • Pain medicine can make you dizzy or sleepy. Prevent falls by calling a caregiver when you want to get out of bed or if you need help.

  • Steroids: Steroid medicine may be given with pain medicine. It may help decrease the amount of pain that you are having. It can also make the pain go away sooner.

  • Antidepressants: This medicine is given to decrease or stop symptoms of depression. It can also be used to help treat pain.

  • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.

  • Hydroxyurea: This medicine can help your body make red blood cells that are less likely to form a sickle shape. This may help decrease your pain.


You may need tests to look for kidney, bone, and blood vessel problems that can be caused by sickle cell anemia. You may need blood tests, x-rays, eye tests, and one or more of the following:

  • Pulmonary function tests: These tests show how your lungs are working.

  • Abdominal ultrasound: This test is done so caregivers can see the tissues and organs of your abdomen. Gel will be put on your abdomen and a small sensor will be moved across your abdomen. The sensor uses sound waves to send pictures of your abdomen to a TV-like screen.

  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray and computer are used to take pictures of your skull and brain. You may be given dye, also called contrast, before the test. Tell the caregiver if you are allergic to dye, iodine, or seafood.

  • MRI: This machine uses powerful magnets to take pictures of your muscles, joints, bones, and blood vessels. You will need to lie still during an MRI. Never enter the MRI room with any metal object. Metal can cause serious injury from the magnet. Tell your caregiver if you have any metal implants in your body.


You will need to rest in bed for a time. You may also need any of the following:

  • Blood transfusion: You may need one or more blood transfusions to replace blood with RBCs that are not sickle shaped.

  • Surgery: You may need to have part or all of your spleen removed if you have splenic sequestration crisis. If you have stones in your gallbladder, you may need surgery to remove them. Ask your caregiver for more information if you need to have surgery.

  • Occupational and physical therapy: Therapy can help you slowly increase your activity. If you have had a stroke, you may need to be in a stroke recovery program. Ask caregivers for more information about therapy if you have had a stroke.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Sickle Cell Anemia (Inpatient Care)