Sickle Cell Disease: Preventing Problems and Staying Healthy

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Here are some things you can do to help prevent problems when you or your child has sickle cell disease.

  • Make and follow a plan for how to treat pain.

    Work with your doctor to make a plan that includes instructions on how to treat pain at home. Your plan should also tell you when you need to go to the hospital if your pain gets worse.

  • Avoid infections.

    Make sure that you and your child get all the recommended vaccines on schedule.

    To help your child with sickle cell disease, make sure that your child takes antibiotics until age 5. And help your child avoid contact with anyone who might have fifth disease. A virus that causes fifth disease can suddenly stop the body from producing red blood cells. This is called an aplastic crisis.

  • Get routine eye exams.

    Eye exams can find problems early.

  • Drink water and other fluids to prevent dehydration.
    • Drink extra fluids before, during, and after exertion and when you're in the heat.
    • Drink plenty of fluid if you have a fever or infection.
    • Limit alcohol.
    • Children should keep a water bottle with them during school, play, and outings.
  • Eat healthy foods.

    Healthy eating helps keep your body's immune system strong. Talk to your doctor about what foods can help you stay healthy and any dietary supplements you may need. These are often a necessary part of the diet for people with sickle cell disease. They're even more important if you aren't eating enough folate-rich leafy vegetables (such as spinach).

  • Don't smoke.

    Smoking and secondhand smoke reduce the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream.

  • Exercise safely.
    • Rest when you feel tired.
    • Drink plenty of fluids when you exercise. Strenuous exercise can cause dehydration and reduced oxygen levels in your blood. This may cause red blood cells to sickle.
    • Children can exercise and play normally if they:
      • Stay hydrated.
      • Take rest breaks.
      • Stay warm. Being exposed to cold air, wind, and water can trigger a sickle cell crisis. Dress children in warm layers of clothing for cold-weather activities. Avoid swimming and playing in cold water.
  • Stay safe at high altitudes and during air travel.

    Low oxygen levels caused by high altitudes and plane flights can cause problems. To avoid problems, drink plenty of water and fluids during air travel or when you're at altitudes higher than 5000 ft (1524 m), such as in the mountains.

  • Recognize serious symptoms.

    Talk to your doctor about what symptoms to watch for. And know when to call your doctor and when you need emergency help.


Current as of: December 13, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.