Preventing crisis in people living with sickle cell disease

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Any crisis experienced by people with sickle cell disease can tilt their body system to an imbalance. Financially and psychologically, this can also be challenging for the caregivers. This is why all efforts must be put in place to prevent crisis in these set of people. 

About sickle cell disease

Our blood has several components, one of which is what gives it the red color and this is named after this color- red blood cell. Red blood cell contains hemoglobin as its major component. Hemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs to everywhere it is needed in the body and also carries carbon dioxide from the body back to the lungs.

Hemoglobin is made up of some genes which can be A, S or C gene. A is the normal gene while S and C are the abnormal ones. Hemoglobin which contains the normal gene (A) has a round shape and flows easily and freely in tiny blood vessels without sticking together.

Hemoglobin which contains the abnormal genes (S or C) has either a sickled (like S) shape or a crescent (like C) shape. These cannot flow freely in tiny blood vessels. They are rigid and stick together thereby clogging the wall of the arteries. These blood cells die easily compared to the normal ones. When these cells clog the wall of the arteries, they are unable to deliver oxygen to the tissues and organs leading to lack or inadequate supply of oxygen.

Crisis in people with sickle cell disease 

Illness which result from these abnormal genes in people with sickle cell disease is called crisis. This can be from bone pain, pain in their tommy, chest pain or even low blood( which is due to rapid breakdown of their red blood cells).

When these abnormal red blood cells clog the inside of these vessels, they reduce oxygen supply to the bones leading to bone pain. Also, these cells can get trapped in the spleen thereby making it bigger. This is the common cause of tommy pain in them. Pain in their chest is due to repeated shortage of blood and oxygen supply to some part of the lungs.

Causes of crisis in people with sickle cell disease 

Although crisis in people with sickle cell is due to clogging of the vessels by red blood cells, some lifestyle can enhance the sticking together of these cells. Their red blood cells live for a very short time compared to those who carry the normal genes, not taking extra caution can make these cells die faster and in mass than it is expected. What then can enhance this?

  • People living with sickle cell needs a lot of water to help their blood flow easily in the vessels without sticking to the wall of these vessels. When adequate water is not taken, their cells stick to the wall of the vessels leading to inadequate oxygen supply to some organs. This can lead to crisis.
  • Any form of infection in them like malaria, chest infection etc. can be stressful for their body. Their red blood cells cannot withstand this stress and tend to break down easily. This can lead to crisis in these set of people.
  • Stress in any form i.e. physical, psychological can have effect on their red blood cells. Stress can make these cells lose their shape easily thereby sticking to the wall of the vessels and it can also lead to rapid breakdown of these cells. These rapid breakdown of cells can bring about sudden drop in their blood level leading to an imbalance in their body system. This can lead to crisis.
  • Cold weather affects the flow of red blood cells. When they move slowly, the tendency to stick together increases thereby putting them at risk of coming down with crisis.
  • Adults with sickle cell that drinks alcohol and smokes are at risk of having crisis as these can result in break down of their red blood cells.

How can you prevent crisis in people with sickle cell disease?

  • These set of people needs to cultivate the habit of drinking a lot of water. This will prevent their cells from sticking together.
  • They should try as much as possible to avoid any activity that wears them out. They can engage in exercise but this should be as recommended by their physician.
  • When any sign of infection is noticed in them (this can be fever or feeling of being unwell), it should be treated as urgent and managed accordingly.
  • They should ensure they are kept warm in cold weather.
  • Drinking of alcohol and smoking of any form should be discouraged.


Although people living with sickle cell disease are at risk of having crisis, the frequency and severity of this can be at a minimal level if extra caution is taken. This in return can spare them from several complications that can result from experiencing crisis.

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Dr Kay
About Dr Kay 58 Articles
As a physician, I love to give answers to several questions bothering people, educating them on how to be healthy, breaking down what their present condition is all about and counselling them on how to manage their condition.

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