Sickle cell anemia is a lifelong, chronic disease that affects over 72,000 people in the United States. In most cases, there are not continual symptoms but periodic painful attacks. It can also weaken the immune system and cause other complications such as strokes. People with sickle cell anemia also typically have a shortened life span. There is no cure for this disease but treatment options are available.
It is essential to seek a consultation with a medical profession if symptoms of this disease are present. Even if a person is not currently experiencing pain or symptoms, continual treatment is necessary. Treatment will help reduce the frequency of episodes and delay the time in between them. Children with this disease are often hospitalized and given intravenous antibiotics. These help prevent bacterial infections commonly seen in children. They also generally continue to take oral antibiotics until they are five years old.
Advances in science are producing newer drugs to help combat symptoms, but the drug hydroxyurea is the most commonly prescribed. There have been indications that this drug may increase the risk of acquiring leukemia but no concrete evidence to this effect is yet to be shown. There are also common side effects to this drug such as painful urination and back pain.
Treatment for pain is necessary for people with this disease. Those experiencing mild, short lived episodes may be prescribed a variety of non-narcotic pain medications. However, acute pain may require use of narcotic drugs to help control it. These are valuable in lessening symptoms and leading a more comfortable life, but they can be addictive.
It is also important to maintain health with proper diet and exercise. In addition to a well balanced diet, a regular exercise routine should be implemented. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga and breathing exercises are helpful to reduce stress and can also be used as pain relief. Ensure adequate bed rest and a good night’s sleep.
Blood transfusions are often implemented to increase the quantity of normal red blood cells. These treatments can be performed regularly with low risk. In more extreme cases a bone marrow transplant may be recommended. However, this is rarely used due to the high risk and low probability of finding a suitable donor.
Continual treatment and monitoring of this disease is essential in keeping complications at bay. Although this disease generally lowers life expectancy, with proper treatment most people suffering from this disease can lead full lives. Over the past thirty years, there has been an increase in the life expectancy for people suffering from sickle cell anemia.