How to manage sickle cell crisis

Sickle cell anemia is a common blood disorder affecting millions of people across the world. In sickle cell anemia, a genetic abnormality causes the red blood cells that carry oxygen to assume a sickle shape instead of the normal spherical shape. The sickling makes the cells rigid and unable to navigate tiny blood vessels in the body, and when blood vessels are blocked, blood flow to organs are blocked, and this results in a group of symptoms called a crisis.   


There are four basic types of crises characterize sickle cell anemia namely, aplastic crisis, sequestration crisis, hyper-hemolytic crisis and vaso-occlusive crisis.  

Vaso-occlusive crisis  

This is the most common type of sickle cell crisis, and it occurs when the sickled cells blood blood flow to certain organs in the body, including the bones. Thus, this type of crisis presents with severe bone pain. Happily, some medications have been identified that can prevent the formation of sickle-shaped cells, thereby reducing the likelihood of occurrence of a vaso-occlusive crisis.   

Aplastic crisis   

This is a rare form of crisis. It is associated with a temporary shutdown of production of blood cells from the bone marrow. This causes a sudden drop in one’s red blood cell levels. Though rare, aplastic crisis is extremely common among persons who suffer from sickle cell anemia occurring in over 8 of 10 patients. Look out for symptoms of tiredness, paleness of skin, and shortness of breath. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do at home because of the seriousness of this condition. Sickle cell anaemia patients often need blood transfusion to treat aplastic crisis.  


Sequestration crisis   

Every patient who suffers from sickle cell anaemia experiences some congestion in the spleen because of the inability of sickle-shaped red cells to navigate tiny blood vessels in the spleen. This often self-resolves over time, but the blockage can lead to large volumes of blood getting trapped or sequestrated in the spleen, resulting in what we call a sequestration crisis. People with this crisis often present with severe abdominal pain and paleness of skin. We can do some things to prevent a sequestration crisis—blood transfusions or a removal of the spleen—some doctors even advice immediate, removal of the spleen after the first case of sequestration crisis.  

Hyper-hemolytic crisis  

Hyper-hemolytic crisis is one that results when the red blood cells break down too frequently, leading to a sharp drop in red blood cell level. This may occur as a result of the immune system fighting the red blood cells, mistaking them for the foreign body. This can be triggered by drugs, infections, and toxic substances in the environment. The management of this potentially life-threatening condition involves the intravenous administration of drugs that reduce the immune system’s destruction of the blood cells.   


Admittedly, there isn’t much you can do at home to manage these crises but keeping to medical advice and staying warm and hydrated could be of help. For this reason, we advise patients who suffer from sickle cell anaemia to prevent dehydration by taking lots of fluids. We also advise you to avoid strenuous exercises and rest when you feel tired. You should also not exposure yourself to extreme cold in order to reduce the chances of sickling of red blood cells.  

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