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Care and Treatment of Sickle Cell Anemia

Why Choose Treatment for Sickle Cell Anemia at University of Colorado Hospital?

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University of Colorado Hospital is part of a nationwide network of sickle cell treatment centers. These centers bring the most recent research findings to the care of patients. UCH is a nationally recognized leader in the field of sickle cell anemia.

A special red blood cell exchange program at UCH has vastly improved the quality of life of sickle cell disease patients. The program, which is the only one of its kind in the Rocky Mountain region, has reduced complications of the disease.

The doctors who treat anemia at UCH are certified in their fields. The director of the program is actively involved with sickle cell research and treatment at the National Institutes of Health.

What is Sickle Cell Anemia?

Sickle cell anemia is an inherited disease, named for rigid, sickle-shaped red blood cells. These cells die early, causing a lack of oxygen in the blood.

Sickle cells develop because of changes in the genes of two proteins (globins). An individual with changes to both types of globins has sickle cell disease, which affects about 70,000 Americans.

Sickle cell anemia has no known cure, but symptoms can be treated with medications.

Patient Education About Sickle Cell Anemia

Living with Sickle Cell Anemia

If you have sickle cell anemia, you can manage your condition. It is important to get regular medical care. This can help to prevent severe bouts of pain, known as sickle cell crises. These crises occur when the sickle cells clump together and block blood flow.

 

Steps to take to manage the condition include:

  • Seeking treatment at the first sign of an infection
  • Avoiding extremes of hot and cold weather
  • Reducing stress
  • Eating a diet rich in vitamin A and folic acid. Each of these vitamins helps your body to produce red blood cells
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Exercising moderately on a regular basis
  • Getting regular rest
  • Avoiding tobacco and alcohol

 

Getting a Second Opinion About Sickle Cell Anemia

A second opinion is worth considering if your doctor does not know why you are anemic. You may also want to seek a second opinion if a treatment for anemia does not seem to work.

 

Additional Resources

Colorado Sickle Cell Treatment and Research Center

Medline Plus

American Sickle Cell Anemia Association

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute

Tests and Treatments for Sickle Cell Anemia

Tests

  • Complete Blood Count (CBC). Your doctor will usually order a complete blood count if he or she thinks you may have sickle cell anemia. The CBC measures the numbers of red blood cells (oxygen-carrying cells) and the levels of hemoglobin in your body.
  • Hemoglobin Electrophoresis. This blood test shows the types of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues and organs. People with sickle cell anemia have an abnormal hemoglobin type.
  • Newborn Screening Test. Doctors use a simple blood test to detect sickle cell anemia at birth. Nearly 90 percent of states screen all infants, and a test can be requested in any state.
  • Reticulocyte Count. This blood test measures how quickly new red blood cells (reticulocytes) are produced by bone marrow and sent into the blood. The test can show whether anemia is caused by low red blood cell production or a loss of red blood cells.
  • Sickle Cell Test. The sickle cell test is a test for the presence or absence of hemoglobin S. This abnormal hemoglobin is the basis for sickle cell disease.

 

Treatments

Because there is currently no cure for sickle cell anemia, the primary goals of treatment are to:

  • Relieve pain with over-the-counter and prescription medications
  • Prevent infections with antibiotics, vaccinations and/or blood transfusions
  • Monitor risk of stroke with ultrasound scans of the head to check blood flow
  • Monitor risk of damage to the blood vessels of the eye with regular checkups
  • Control complications caused by the disease if they occur

 

In rare cases, bone marrow transplants are used to treat sickle cell anemia. The body uses bone marrow to produce red blood cells.

Your Medical Team

Doctors, nurses and other providers at UCH work together to treat patients with sickle cell anemia. Our physicians provide the best possible care to both adults and children.

 

Sickle Cell Anemia Specialists

  • Hematologist – A doctor who treats diseases of the blood and the blood-forming organs
  • Internist – A doctor who diagnoses and treats diseases that do not require surgery.
  • Oncologist – A doctor who diagnoses and treats cancer.
  • Pediatrician – A doctor who specializes in treating children.

 

Other Sickle Cell Anemia Staff

  • Clinical care nurse – a nurse who specializes in the care of a specific patient population.