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Sickle Cell Anemia


Sickle cell anemia is a disease that causes your body to break down too many red blood cells (RBCs). RBCs carry oxygen to all the organs and tissues. Sickle cell anemia is one type of sickle cell disease. The disease causes RBCs to be sickle (crescent) shaped. Your risk increases if both 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.


Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You have a new cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain.
  • You have a fever.
  • You are a man and have an erection that is painful and does not go away.
  • You lose vision in one or both eyes.
  • You are short of breath, even when you rest.

Seek care immediately if:

  • You have a new or different headache.
  • You have new pain in any part of your body.
  • You feel like you can no longer cope with your pain, or feel like harming yourself.
  • You cannot think clearly, or you feel like you are going to faint.
  • You have abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.
  • 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.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You are more tired than usual during the day.
  • You see blood in your urine.
  • 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.


You may need any of the following:

  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask how to take this medicine safely. Medicine may also be given to decrease sickling of your RBCs. You may also need medicine to treat or prevent a bacterial infection.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and 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.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him or her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Medical alert identification:

Wear medical alert jewelry or carry a card that says you have sickle cell anemia. Ask your healthcare provider where to get these items.

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 cigarettes or drink alcohol. These increase your risk for a sickle cell crisis. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Ask about which vaccinations you need. Vaccinations can help prevent a viral infection that may lead to a sickle cell crisis. Get a flu shot every year as directed. You may need a pneumonia vaccine.

Family planning for women with sickle cell anemia:

Talk to your healthcare provider if you plan to have children. Pregnancy in a woman who has sickle cell will be a high-risk pregnancy. Your healthcare provider will want to create a safe pregnancy plan. If you do not want to become pregnant, your healthcare provider may recommend birth control pills that contain only progestin. The pills will prevent pregnancy and make your periods lighter. Lighter periods may help increase your hemoglobin levels.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

You may need ongoing screening for conditions that can develop because of sickle cell disease. Examples include kidney disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), retinopathy (eye problems), and problems with your lungs. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

© 2016 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.

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.