Sickle Cell: Do You Know When To Seek Help?

Successful surgeon.

Do you know how to handle sickle cell emergencies? Can you recognize the symptoms of a sickle cell emergency?

What do you know about sickle cell?

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Normal round red blood cells move easily through your blood vessels, taking oxygen to every part of your body. But in sickle cell disease, some of these normal, round red blood cells become shaped like a crescent (the name “sickle cell” comes from the crescent shape of the cell, similar to the farm tool with a curved blade that can cut crops like wheat) when oxygen levels are low. The sickle-shaped blood cells easily stick together, blocking blood vessels, and stopping the oxygen they contain from getting through. This process can cause a lot of pain. It can also hurt organs, muscles and bones.

Having sickle cell disease often means a lifelong battle against the health problems it can cause, such as pain, infections, anemia and stroke. Since some symptoms are more serious than others. It’s very important to know when you need to contact your doctor or other healthcare professionals for help.

In case of an emergency…

Be sure to make a plan with your doctor that includes where and when to get treatment in case of a sickle cell emergency.

Call 911 or go to an emergency room or other urgent care facility immediately if you or a family member have:

• Difficulty breathing

• Chest pain

• Severe abdominal pain

• Sudden weakness

• Sudden numbness or tingling in the hands, feet, fingers, or toes

• Sudden poor balance and poor coordination when walking

• Confusion

• Garbled speech or an inability to speak

• Sudden change in vision

• Severe headache

• Loss of consciousness

• Fever higher than 101 degrees

• Severe cough

• Repeated vomiting or persistent diarrhea

• A sudden increase in the size of your or your child’s spleen (Learn from your doctor how to feel your child’s spleen to check its size.)

• Increased paleness

• Lightheadedness

• Persistent erection of the penis (priapism) that lasts more than 3 hours or is extremely painful

• Severe pain that can’t be relieved with your usual prescription painkilling drugs or other pain-relief methods

 

Talk to your doctor before an emergency.

Sometimes painful events can be treated at home with over-the-counter medicine depending on how severe the pain is and how long you’ve had it. Talk to your doctor about when and how to manage your pain at home. However, call your doctor right away if you experience pain that does not go away with treatment at home or any sudden problems with vision.

Which doctors can help?

If you or your child has sickle cell disease, try to find a doctor who has special training in this condition. Some medical centers and hospitals specialize in sickle cell disease treatment and support. If your local community doesn’t offer this option, look for a doctor and a pain treatment specialist who have experience in treating sickle cell disorders. Choose a doctor you are comfortable with and with whom you can partner over the long term. Be sure you feel comfortable asking questions, sharing your insights, and feel like you and the doctor are part of a team.

The following types of health professionals can diagnose and help treat symptoms of sickle cell disease. Some of these health professionals may provide specialized treatment or counseling.

• Hematologist (blood or tissue specialist)

• Family medicine physician

• General practitioner

• Pediatrician (specializes in the care of infants, children, and adolescents)

• Pain management specialist

• Pediatric hematologist-oncologist (specializes in blood disorders and cancers among children and teens)

• Pulmonologist (lung specialist)

• Neurologist (brain and nervous system specialist)

• Ophthalmologist (eye specialist)

• General surgeon

• Medical geneticist (specializes in conditions caused by abnormalities in genes or chromosomes)

Dealing with sickle cell disease can be challenging, but with so many innovative medical treatments available, it is possible to live a long and rich life. Become a partner in your care team to have the healthiest and longest possible life.

To find medical centers and hospitals that specialize in sickle cell disease treatment and services http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/sicklecell/documents/SickleCellDIRECTORY_508.pdf

For tips on when to seek emergency care or call your doctor http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/sicklecell/documents/tipsheets_guide.pdf

Keep track of your important health information in order to share it with your doctor

http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/sicklecell/documents/LivingWell-With-Sickle-Cell%20Disease_Self-CareToolkit.pdf

Watchful Waiting

Watchful waiting is when you and your doctor watch your symptoms to see if your health improves on its own. If it does, no treatment is necessary. If your symptoms don’t get better or get worse, then it’s time to take the next treatment step. Some complications of sickle cell disease may not need immediate medical attention from a doctor. In these cases, you can try home treatment.

• Medicine. Painful events can be treated at home depending on how severe the pain is and how long you’ve had it. Try over-the-counter pain medicine for mild pain. Or take a stronger medicine, if prescribed by your doctor. If this doesn’t work, contact your doctor or seek emergency medical treatment.

• Fluids. You may treat persistent, painful erection of the penis (priapism) at home by drinking fluids, taking over-the-counter pain medicine, and urinating as much as possible. If this doesn’t solve the problem within 2 to 3 hours, seek emergency medical treatment.

Which Doctors Can Provide The Best Help?

If you or your child has sickle cell disease, try to find a doctor who has special training for this disease. Some medical centers and hospitals specialize in sickle cell disease treatment and support. If your local community doesn’t offer this option, look for a doctor and a pain treatment specialist who have experience in treating sickle cell disorders. Choose a doctor you are comfortable with and can partner with over the long term.

The following types of health professionals can diagnose and help treat symptoms of sickle cell disease. Some of these health professionals may provide specialized treatment or counseling.

• Hematologist
• Family medicine physician
• General practitioner
• Pediatrician
• Pain management specialist
• Pediatric hematologist-oncologist
• Pulmonologist
• Neurologist
• Ophthalmologist
• General surgeon
• Medical geneticist

Yes, dealing with sickle cell disease can be challenging, but with so many innovative medical treatments available, it is very possible to live a long and rich life by partnering with your doctor.

By Dr. Althea Grant, BDO Sickle Cell Expert

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