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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.


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:

Healthcare providers may measure how much liquid you drink. They may also measure how much you urinate.

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.

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 healthcare provider 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.


  • 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 may help decrease swelling and pain.
  • Antidepressants improve mood and may help decrease pain.
  • Antibiotics treat or prevent a bacterial infection.
  • Hydroxyurea helps your body make red blood cells that are less likely to sickle. This may help decrease your pain.


  • Blood tests are done to look at your RBCs. They also show liver and kidney function and give information about your overall health.
  • Pulmonary function tests show how your lungs are working.
  • An x-ray, ultrasound, or MRI may show if sickle cell anemia has affected organs, such as your liver or kidney. You may be given contrast liquid to help the organs show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.


  • A blood transfusion replaces blood with RBCs that are not sickle shaped.
  • Surgery may be done to remove a part of your spleen.
  • Occupational and physical therapy may help improve movement and strength and decrease pain. An occupational therapist teaches you skills to help with your daily activities.


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 liver or kidney failure. These conditions may become life-threatening.


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.

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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.