The most effective "cure" for sickle-cell pain is avoiding it in the first place, says pediatric hematologist Dr. M.A. Bender. "It's critical that families understand what causes red blood cells to turn sickle shaped," says Bender, director of the Odessa Brown Sickle Cell Clinic. Simple measures, like drinking lots of water and taking ibuprofen at the first sign of a cold, can go a long ways towards preventing a pain episode, he says. Here Bender answers some common questions about sickle-cell pain and how to prevent it:
Q: Why is sickle cell disease so painful?
A: It isn't always. Sickle cell disease affects different people in different ways. Some have lots of problems, others very few. A relatively small percentage of people experience five or more pain crises a year. This pain occurs after cells sickle and block blood flow to parts of the body, starving tissue of the oxygen and nutrition it needs to survive.
Q: What is a pain episode?
A: A pain episode is pain from blocked blood flow and/or dying tissues that can last hours to a couple of days.
Q: What can cause a pain episode?
A: Common triggers are dehydration, cold temperatures, viruses and infections, overexertion, and injuries - all of which can restrict blood flow and/or promote sickling.
Q: What can I do to help my child avoid a pain episode?
A: Be aware of the causes (above) and act to avoid them: