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Sickle Cell Disease (cont.)


Medicines that treat sickle cell disease include hydroxyurea and various pain medicines. Some of these medicines require a prescription. Others are available over-the-counter. Pain medicine may work best when combined with pain management skills, such as distraction, guided imagery, deep breathing, relaxation, and positive, encouraging self-talk.

Hydroxyurea is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating sickle cell disease in adults. Hydroxyurea increases fetal hemoglobin production, which can decrease the severity of sickle cell disease.

Pain treatment for sickle cell disease pain varies depending on how bad the pain is and how long the pain lasts. Medicines that treat sickle cell disease pain include over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and prescription opioids such as codeine. Opiate pain medicines are used under careful medical supervision.

Medication Choices

Pain medicines


There is no surgical cure for sickle cell disease.

Some sickle cell disease complications are treated by surgery. These surgeries involve:

  • Removing the spleen (splenectomy), to prevent the trapping of too many red blood cells in the spleen (splenic sequestration).
  • Removing the gallbladder (cholecystectomy), to prevent problems caused by gallstones.
  • Draining fluid from the penis in cases of severe priapism.
  • Hip replacement, if the tissue in the hip breaks down and dies because it doesn't get enough blood (osteonecrosis).
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