How to Manage a Sickle Cell Crisis

Many people across the world face the challenges of living with sickle cell disease on a daily basis. One of the most painful challenges in living with sickle cell disease is managing sickle cell crises.


What is a Sickle Cell Crisis?

A sickle cell crisis is a painful episode that may happen suddenly in any part of the body.  A sickle cell crisis occurs when sickle-shaped red blood cells clump together and obstruct blood vessels that carry blood to certain organs, muscles, and bones, which prevents the flow of oxygen. A crisis  can range from mild to severe pain and can last for hours, days, or even weeks at a time. Patients often describe the pain as debilitating.

I myself have had my share of debilitating pain crises that have left me in the hospital for several weeks. Once the pain begins, there is no telling if it will stay at a pain level 1 or go straight to a 10 within hours or minutes. The unpredictability and intensity of sickle cell crises are what make sickle cell management so difficult. According to a recent article by The Irish Times, research studies show that sickle cell management includes medication, blood transfusions, and preventative lifestyle measures. Thankfully as I’ve grown older, I’ve found ways to better manage my sickle cell symptoms.


Tips to Help Manage a Crisis:

  • Avoid stress – even though avoiding stressful situations can be out of our hands, we want to remember that when situations arise, it’s all about how we respond to them with our thoughts and words. When we speak positivity into a situation, 9 times out of 10, we end up with positive results.


  • Have a strong support system – whether it’s a local support group, a family member, friend, or even your doctor, having a strong support system is good for our mental health. I have found it a lot easier to cope through some of the most difficult crises when I had someone to talk to or to just sit by my side. I feel like that support gave me purpose- a reason to want to fight harder.


  • Drink plenty of water – It is incredibly important for those of us with sickle cell to stay hydrated. Drinking water promotes healthy blood flow and reduces the chance of our red blood cells sickling and sticking together.


  • Take medications as prescribed – Having a daily medication regimen can lead to healthier results. Medications such as Hydroxyurea are used to reduce the frequency of painful crises and reduce the need for blood transfusions in adults and children 2 years of age and older with sickle cell anemia. According to an article published by the National Library of Medicine, taking this medication at the same time everyday gives the best results.


  • Monitor the weather- Sickle cell patients should avoid extreme cold or hot temperatures as they both can trigger a crisis.


  • Knowing Your Triggers-  I have found that knowing my triggers can help me avoid a crisis. Note your triggers! For example, take note of when and where the pain starts, and what may have caused it.


Over the years, I have found these tips helpful and have worked closely with my healthcare provider to effectively manage my sickle cell symptoms. The number of crises I now experience has reduced significantly. I have tried different medications and treatments throughout my patient journey because it took time to find what regimen works for me. Sickle cell warriors are strong and resilient, and even though so many of us have found ways to manage our symptoms, we deserve more research for better, more effective treatments with fewer side effects. With more research, warriors will have access to better treatments, diagnostics, symptom management, and cures.  


By Juanita McClain

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