Sickle Cell Anemia

What is 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 are at risk for sickle cell anemia if both of your parents have the gene for sickle cell anemia. Your healthcare provider can confirm you have sickle cell anemia from the shape of your RBCs.

What are the signs and symptoms of sickle cell anemia?

  • Fatigue

  • Pale skin

  • Frequent headaches

  • Shortness of breath

  • Pain throughout your body

What are the risks of sickle cell anemia?

Sickle cell anemia increases your risk for infections. You may have a sickle cell crisis. This may cause severe pain and damage to organs, such as your kidneys or spleen. Sickle cell anemia may cause jaundice (yellowing of your skin and eyes). It may also lead to trouble breathing and lung problems. Sickle cell anemia may increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke. Even with treatment, sickle cell anemia increases your risk for organ failure, such as liver or kidney failure. These conditions may become life-threatening.

How is sickle cell anemia treated?

  • Medicines decrease pain. Medicine may also be given to decrease sickling of your RBCs. You may also need medicine to treat or prevent a bacterial infection.

  • NSAIDs help decrease swelling and pain or fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.

  • A blood transfusion replaces blood with RBCs that are not sickle shaped.

How can I prevent a sickle cell crisis?

  • Take vitamins and minerals as directed. Folic acid can help prevent blood vessel problems that can occur with sickle cell anemia. Zinc may decrease how often you have pain.

  • Drink liquids as directed. Dehydration can increase your risk for a sickle cell crisis. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.

  • Balance rest and exercise. Rest during a sickle cell crisis. Over time, increase your activity to a moderate amount. Exercise regularly. Avoid exercise or activities that can cause injury, such as football. Ask about the best exercise plan for you.

  • Stay out of the cold. Do not go quickly from a warm place to a cold place. Do not go swimming in cold water. Stay warm in the winter.

  • Do not smoke or drink alcohol. These increase your risk for a sickle cell crisis. If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. Ask for information if you need help quitting.

  • Ask about which vaccinations you need. Vaccinations can help prevent a viral infection that may lead to a sickle cell crisis. You should get a flu shot every year. You may need a vaccine to protect you from the hepatitis B virus.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a new or different headache.

  • You have new pain in any part of your body.

  • You are more tired than usual during the day.

  • You see blood in your urine.

  • You are short of breath, even when you rest.

  • You are constipated or have diarrhea.

  • Your eyesight has changed in one or both eyes.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You feel like you can no longer cope with your pain, or feel like harming yourself.

  • You cannot think clearly or feel like you are going to pass out.

  • You have abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.

  • You start to lose vision in one or both eyes.

  • You have new weakness or numbness in your arm, leg, or face.

  • Your urine is dark, or you are urinating less than usual or not at all.

  • You have a new cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain.

Care Agreement

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. 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.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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