IMPROVING THE LIVING CONDITIONS OF PEOPLE AFFECTED WITH SICKLE CELL ANEMIA
Sickle cell anaemia is an inherited blood disorder that can cause debilitating pain crises and put patients at increased risk for infections, among other symptoms.
There are several treatments that can help manage the condition, and some lifestyle changes can make it easier to live with the disease.
One of the most common and debilitating symptoms of sickle cell anaemia is pain. This can be a chronic or constant pain, as well as spikes of sudden debilitating pain called a vaso-occlusive crisis.
Pain also can contribute to fatigue, a common symptom of anaemia, as it can be difficult to sleep. The medicines Hydroxyurea or Endari may reduce the frequency of pain crises in some patients. There also are various other treatments to help cope with the pain.
Recognizing and avoiding what triggers a pain crisis can be key to improving quality of life. When a pain crisis occurs, it may help to record what could have been the cause of it in order to narrow down what could be a trigger for a particular patient.
Common triggers include:
- Extreme temperatures, including cold weather
- High altitudes, as oxygen levels can be lower
- Alcohol and smoking
Some patients find that heating pads, warm baths, massages and physical therapy may help control pain.
Avoiding infections is important when coping with sickle cell anaemia. Regular vaccinations and treatment with antibiotics as required can go a long way to help reduce the risk they pose. However, there also are several simple measures that can help prevent contracting infections. Examples include:
- Regular hand-washing
- Careful food storage and preparation to avoid food poisoning, such as washing surfaces, storing food at the correct temperature, and cooking meat thoroughly
- Avoiding high-risk foods, including food containing raw eggs or unpasteurized dairy products
Fatigue is a common problem in sickle cell anaemia, both due to reduced oxygen levels and disturbed sleep from pain. Folic acid, to increase red blood cell production, may help with this.
Sickle cell anaemia should not reduce a woman’s chance of conceiving. However, there can be increased risks during pregnancy in women with sickle cell anaemia, so increased monitoring may be recommended to prevent potential problems.
It is important that a woman who is planning to try becoming pregnant discusses this with a doctor because some sickle cell medications, such as hydroxyurea, may be harmful to a foetus.
Sickle cell anaemia can lead to a wide range of complications that may require treatment. Some examples include: hearing loss, vision problems, acute chest syndrome, jaundice, priapism (persistent and painful erections), leg ulcers, gallstones, and stroke.
Sickle cell anaemia also can have a negative impact on the mental health of patients and may lead to depression and anxiety. Having a good support network can help keep a positive attitude and help patients seek medical assistance when required.
Various support groups and charities worldwide such as, Sickle Cell Society in Nigeria and the National Sickle Cell Centre, are available to help patients cope with a diagnosis of sickle cell anaemia.