Sickle cell disease: Types of treatments and medications

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Managing and treating sickle cell disease may involve different types of treatments and medications. Learn what these are and why it is important to talk to your health-care team about all your treatments and medications.

Key points

  • A number of treatments and medications are available for sickle cell disease, including red blood cell transfusions, stem cell transplants and various over-the-counter and prescribed medications.
  • Sickle cell treatments (that are not medications) can prevent complications. These are often given in hospital.
  • Over-the-counter medications and prescription medications are also used to manage sickle cell disease. Some are pills and liquids that are taken at home, and others need to be injected into the vein by a health-care provider.
  • It is important to tell your health-care provider about all treatments and medications you receive, even if they are not directly related to sickle cell disease.

Treatments and medications for sickle cell disease can be grouped into three broad categories.

  1. Sickle cell treatments (that are not medications) are often provided in the hospital. They can prevent complications and lengthen the lives of those who have sickle cell disease. They usually differ for each person depending on the types of complications they experience and the seriousness of their condition. Treatments may include red blood cell transfusions and stem cell transplant.
  2. Over-the-counter medications are medications you can buy at a drugstore without a prescription. Examples include acetaminophen, ibuprofen and most antihistamines.
  3. Prescription medications are medications that are prescribed (recommended) by a health-care provider in a specific dose. You can only buy these medications when you provide the prescription from the health-care provider. Some prescription medications are pills or liquids that you take at home. Others must be injected into a vein by a health-care provider, usually in the hospital.

General points about medications

  • Medications can include pills, creams or ointments, patches and injections.
  • Medications have two different names. The generic name is the name of the active ingredient in the drug, for example ibuprofen. The brand name is the name given to the drug by the company that makes it, for example Advil® or Motrin®.
  • Sometimes, people with sickle cell disease need to take more than one medication at the same time.
  • The medication dose for you is based on your weight, age and symptoms. Try not to compare your medication dose with those of others.
  • All medications can cause side effects. It is important to discuss the different possible side effects with your health-care provider so they can help you manage them.
  • You need to take your medications exactly as your health-care provider prescribes them. Following medication instructions will help avoid harm from taking too much medication or from interactions (problems that happen when certain medications are taken together).

Important: The information on this website is for educational purposes only. It does not replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your health-care provider if you wish to stop or change your medications.

As you read through the material, remember that not all complications need to be managed with medications, and not all medications are suitable for all age groups or for all types of sickle cell disease.

Why it is important to talk to your health-care team about your medications

Tell your health-care provider about all the treatments and medications you are using, even those not directly for sickle cell disease. These include:

  • prescription and over-the-counter drugs
  • vitamins, minerals, supplements
  • naturopathic or homeopathic therapies

Even if these items are “natural”, they can still interact with your medications or cause side effects.

Always discuss with your health-care team all medications that you might be interested in trying. This includes additional over-the-counter medication for pain relief and any other drugs, including alcohol or marijuana, which can interact with prescribed medications. Sharing this information will help you avoid harmful side effects or drug interactions.

Make sure you tell your health-care provider about any other medical conditions you might have. This information can affect their choice of medications to prescribe.

Last updated: September 25th 2023