Sickle Cell 101: How And 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?

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 

sickle cell graphic

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.

What kind of 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…