How Is Sickle Cell Anemia Treated?
Sickle cell anemia has no widely available cure. However, treatments can help relieve symptoms and treat complications. The goals of treating sickle cell anemia are to relieve pain; prevent infections, eye damage, and strokes; and control complications (if they occur). Bone marrow transplants may offer a cure in a small number of sickle cell anemia cases. Researchers continue to look for new treatments for the disease. These include gene therapy and improved bone marrow transplants.
People who have sickle cell anemia need regular medical care. Some doctors and clinics specialize in treating people who have the disease. Hematologists and pediatric hematologists specialize in treating adults and children who have blood diseases and disorders.
Medicines and Fluids
Mild pain often is treated with over-the-counter medicine and heating pads. Severe pain may need to be treated in a hospital.
The usual treatments for acute (short-term) pain crises are fluids and pain-killing medicines. Fluids help prevent dehydration, a condition in which your body doesn't have enough fluids. Fluids are given either by mouth or through a vein.
Common medicines used to treat pain crises include acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and narcotics such as meperidine, morphine, oxycodone, and others. (Narcotic abuse and addiction are issues that must be considered in any pain control plan.)
Treatment for mild-to-moderate pain usually begins with NSAIDs or acetaminophen. If pain continues, a narcotic may be added. Moderate-to-severe pain is often treated with narcotics. The narcotic may be used alone or with NSAIDs or acetaminophen.
If you have severe sickle cell anemia, you may need a medicine called hydroxyurea. This medicine helps reduce the number of painful crises you have. Hydroxyurea is used to prevent painful crises, not to treat them when they occur.
Given daily, this medicine reduces how often painful crises and acute chest syndrome occur. People taking the medicine also need fewer blood transfusions and have fewer hospital visits.
Early studies of hydroxyurea in children show that they have improved growth. These studies also suggest that this medicine may help preserve organ function.
Hydroxyurea can cause serious side effects, including an increased risk for dangerous infections. People who take hydroxyurea must be carefully watched. Your doctor may need to adjust the dose of this medicine to reduce the risk for side effects.
Doctors are studying the long-term effects of hydroxyurea on people who have sickle cell anemia. Studies are under way to find out whether hydroxurea prevents organ damage or other sickle cell complications.
Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of taking hydroxyurea.