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Sickle Cell Disease: Preventing Problems and Staying Healthy

Topic Overview

Home treatment for sickle cell disease includes steps you can take not only to control pain symptoms but also to prevent some of the complications caused by the disease. These complications include painful sickle cell crises.

Have a pain management plan

If you and your doctor have developed a pain management plan for home treatment of symptoms, be sure to follow your plan.

For more information, see Sickle Cell Disease: Pain Management.

Prevent severe childhood infection

Give your child with sickle cell disease regular doses of a prescribed antibiotic until age 5.

Get your child immunized on schedule. For more information, see the topic Immunizations.

Avoid contact with anyone suspected of having fifth disease, which is caused by parvovirus. A serious condition called aplastic anemia can develop.

Prevent adult infection

Check your immunization schedule and keep your immunizations up to date..

Prevent vision problems

Get routine eye exams as a child and as an adult. Early detection can help prevent vision problems.

For more information, see Sickle Cell Disease: Vision Problems.

Prevent dehydration

Drink water and other fluids. Drink enough so that your urine is light yellow or clear like water. Drink extra fluids before, during, and after exertion and when in the heat. Drink plenty of fluid if you have a fever or infection. Children should keep a water bottle with them during school, play, and outings.

Limit alcohol. Alcohol use can lead to dehydration.

Exercise with care

If you exercise strenuously, rest when you feel tired and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Dehydration and reduced oxygen levels in a person's blood resulting from strenuous exercise may cause red blood cells to sickle.

Children with sickle cell disease can usually exercise and play normally if they:

  • Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercise. Dehydration can cause cells to sickle.
  • Get regular rest breaks during vigorous exercise.
  • Stay warm. Exposure to cold air, wind, and water can trigger a sickle cell crisis. Dress children in warm layers of clothing for cold-weather activities. Avoid swimming and playing in cold water.

Prevent problems at high altitude or during air travel

High altitudes. The air at high altitudes, such as in an unpressurized airplane or in the mountains at altitudes greater than 5,000 ft (1,524 m), has less oxygen than at sea level. The lack of oxygen can cause cells to sickle. If you spend time at high altitudes, drink plenty of water and fluids to prevent dehydration.

Air travel. Large passenger airplanes are pressurized. But a person with sickle cell disease may have a sickling problem even when flying in a pressurized airplane. Most people won't have problems if they are flying only for a short time (less than 4 to 6 hours) and drink plenty of fluids during the flight.

Don't smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke

Smoking and secondhand smoke reduce the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream.

Manage and reduce stress

Stress may cause a sickle cell crisis.

For tips on reducing stress, see the topic Stress Management.

Get plenty of rest and sleep

To prevent fatigue, rest when you feel tired.

Stay warm in cold weather

Exposure to cold air, wind, and water may cause a painful event by triggering red blood cell sickling in exposed areas of the body.

Dress warmly in cold weather. Dress in layers to avoid sudden temperature change. When possible, avoid situations where you might become cold.

Educate yourself

Learn to recognize serious symptoms. Partner with your doctor, using your experience with the disease and your doctor's expertise. Make a plan for how to treat pain at home and when to seek medical care for severe pain and symptoms. Know when to call your doctor or when you need emergency help.

Learn about proper diet and dietary supplements

A balanced diet helps keep the body's immune system strong. Your doctor or a registered dietitian may be a good source of information about proper diet.

Folic acid supplements may be prescribed to aid the bone marrow's production of red blood cells.

Getting the right nutrition on a daily basis will help children who have sickle cell disease reach their full growth potential.


Other Works Consulted

  • Meremikwu MM, Okomo U (2011). Sickle cell disease, search date March 2010. BMJ Clinical Evidence. Available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health (2002). The Management of Sickle Cell Disease (NIH Publication No. 02-2117). Available online: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/prof/blood/sickle/.


Current as of: November 7, 2019

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Martin Steinberg MD - Hematology

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