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Definition

What is sickle cell crisis?

A sickle cell crisis is a painful episode that occurs in people who have sickle cell anemia. It happens when sickle-shaped red blood cells (RBCs) block blood vessels. Blood and oxygen cannot get to your tissues, causing pain. A sickle cell crisis can also damage your tissues and cause organ failure, such liver or kidney failure. A sickle cell crisis can become life-threatening.

How common is sickle cell crisis?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of sickle cell crisis?

The common symptoms of sickle cell crisis are:

  • Extreme pain in the chest or stomach
  • Trouble breathing
  • A fever of 101°f (38.5°c) or higher
  • Pain that does not go away after taking medicine
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Severe headache or dizziness
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin) or extreme paleness
  • Painful erection in males
  • Sudden change of vision
  • Seizures
  • Weakness or inability to move any body parts
  • Slurring of speech
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Numbing or tingling

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes sickle cell crisis?

Typically, you won’t know why you had a crisis, and there may be more than one cause. Possible triggers include:

  • Being at high altitudes (mountain climbing, for example)
  • Changes in temperature, like if you go from a warm house into a cold winter day and you haven’t bundled up
  • Illness
  • Not having enough to drink (dehydration)
  • Stress

Risk factors

What increases my risk for sickle cell crisis?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

 

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is sickle cell crisis diagnosed?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

How is sickle cell crisis treated?

Two new drugs have shown promise. The drug called L-glutamine oral powder (Endari) has proven to help prevent these crises from occurring and thus preventing hospitalizations. Hydroxyurea (Droxia, Hydrea, Mylocel) prevents abnormal red blood cells from forming. This reduces the number of painful crises from sickling blood cells.

Your doctor can help you come up with a plan for how to handle a crisis. If you need to go to the hospital for treatment, make sure to take your plan with you.

Often, you can treat the pain at home. When a crisis first starts, your doctor will likely suggest you drink plenty of liquids and take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Talk to your doctor to see what’s safe for you. For example, if you have a kidney problem, acetaminophen might be the better choice. For more severe pain, your doctor may give you a stronger medicine.

You can also try a heating pad, hot bath, or a massage. Physical therapy may provide some relief, too. And don’t forget to tend to your mind. Counseling, relaxation methods like meditation, and seeking support from family and friends are key steps in keeping yourself well.

If you can’t manage the pain at home, go to an emergency room, where they can give you stronger pain medicine. You may need to stay in the hospital until the pain is under control.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage sickle cell crisis?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with sickle cell crisis:

  • Take vitamins and minerals as directed. Folic acid can help prevent blood vessel problems that can come with sickle cell anemia. Zinc may decrease how often you have pain.
  • Drink liquids as directed. Dehydration can increase your risk for a sick 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 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 pneumonia vaccines every 5 years.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: October 19, 2017 | Last Modified: October 19, 2017

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