Sickle Cell Anemia - Treatment
Sickle cell anemia cannot be cured. However, many of its symptoms can be treated. Its most serious complications can also be prevented. The important factor is to diagnose the disorder as early as possible and begin treatment immediately. Methods used to treat symptoms include:
- Pain management. Pain is a common problem with sickle cell anemia. Some patients get the relief they need from over-the-counter medication, such as aspirin and acetaminophen. Others need stronger painkillers. Care givers should be careful giving aspirin to children as it has been linked with development of Reye's syndrome (see Reye's syndrome entry).
- Blood transfusions. Blood transfusions are generally used only in extreme situations, such as severe anemia or especially bad episodes of pain.
- Drugs. Infants are often treated with antibiotics to prevent infections. (Antibiotics are substances derived from bacteria or other organisms that fight the growth of other bacteria or organisms.) Such treatments may last to the age of six. Research is constantly being conducted to develop drugs for the cure of sickle cell anemia. One promising candidate is hydroxyurea, which seems to reduce pain and acute chest syndrome and can limit the need for blood transfusions in some cases.
- Bone marrow transplantation. Bone marrow transplantation is used in only the most severe cases of sickle cell anemia. It is based on the fact that new blood cells are made in the marrow of bones. The marrow is soft tissue found in the center of bones. In a bone marrow transplant, marrow is removed from the bones of a healthy donor. It is then injected into the bones of a person with sickle cell anemia. If the procedure is successful, the donor marrow begins making normal, rather than sickle cell, RBCs. Bone marrow transplantation is a very risky procedure with only limited chances of success.
Sickle cell anemia is best treated by conventional medical techniques. However, alternative treatments may help ease some symptoms of the condition. Relaxation techniques, application of warm compresses, and adequate hydration may increase a patient's comfort. Good nutrition, the avoidance of stress, and proper rest may also help prevent some complications of the disorder.