Home treatment for pain caused by sickle cell disease

Home treatment for sickle cell disease includes steps you can take to control pain symptoms. You and your doctor can develop a plan for home treatment of symptoms, which you can refer to when pain begins.

Treatment of pain at home is a way of life for most people with sickle cell disease. Sickle cell pain varies from person to person, from mild to severe, and from occasional to constant. Some people experience numerous painful events a year, while others experience none.

In many cases, you can treat mild to severe sickle cell pain at home with a combination of pain medicines, plenty of fluids, and comfort measures such as heating pads.1 But painful events can become severe and last for days to weeks. Such extreme pain requires aggressive pain medicine that must be monitored in the hospital. If pain is increasing and is not relieved by treatment at home, call your doctor and seek emergency medical care.

Mild to moderate body pain and some painful events can be treated at home by:

  • Drinking a lot of water and other fluids.
  • Getting plenty of bed rest.
  • Keeping warm. Cold temperatures make pain worse.
  • Practicing pain management skills, such as distraction, guided imagery, deep breathing, relaxation, and self-talk. These skills can help you and/or your child focus away from the pain. A pain specialist can teach you pain management skills.
  • Treating the pain with medicine.
    • For mild pain, use ibuprofen (such as Advil) and/or acetaminophen (such as Tylenol).
    • Children and teens younger than 20 should not be given aspirin, which can cause Reye syndrome.
    • For more severe pain, take regular doses of pain medicine prescribed by your doctor.
    • Use the pain management plan you developed with your doctor to help decide what type of pain medicine to use. You are probably the best judge of when it's necessary to use a stronger prescription painkiller.

Citations

  1. Committee on Genetics, American Academy of Pediatrics (2002). Health supervision for children with sickle cell disease. Pediatrics, 109(3): 526–535.

Last Updated: December 9, 2008

Author: Debby Golonka, MPH

Medical Review: Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Martin Steinberg, MD - Hematology

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