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Discharge Instructions for Sickle Cell Disease, Pain Crisis—Adult

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a genetic disorder. It changes the shape of red blood cells. These cells stick together and get trapped in small blood vessels. This blocks blood flow and can lead to pain. This is called sickle cell pain crisis.

Sickle cell pain crisis may be treated with home care, medicines, or blood transfusions.

Steps to Take

Home Care

To reduce discomfort:

  • Rest when you need to.
  • Stay warm, but do not overheat.
  • Use heating pads or massages.
  • Do activities that distract you from pain.


Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Try eating small, frequent meals instead of 3 large ones. Talk to a dietitian for help with meal planning.

Physical Activity

Return to activities as you are able. Do not do strenuous activity until your doctor says it is okay. In general:

  • Return to work when your doctor says it is okay.
  • Do not drive unless your doctor has said it is safe.


Your doctor may advise:

  • Over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Folic acid supplements
  • Medicine to prevent future sickle cell crisis

Take all the antibiotics you are given. Do this even when you are feeling well.

When taking medicine:

  • Take your medicine as advised. Do not change the amount or schedule.
  • Be aware of the side effects of your medicine. Tell your doctor if you have any.
  • Talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescription medicine.
  • Do not share your prescription medicine.
  • Medicines can be harmful when mixed. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking more than one. This includes over the counter products and supplements.
  • Plan for refills.

Other Steps That May Help

This condition can make it easier for you to get sick. To reduce this risk:

  • Stay away from people who may be ill.
  • Wear a mask—when in close contact with those who could have a respiratory infection.
  • Wash hands often.
  • Follow food safety guidelines.


Your doctor will check on your progress. Sickle cell needs to be monitored. Be sure to go to any advised appointments.

Call Your Doctor If Any of the Following Occur

Call your doctor if you are having problems managing SCD or you have:

  • Pain that cannot be controlled by your medicine
  • Extreme paleness or tiredness or yellowing of the skin or eyes
  • Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
  • Bleeding
  • A cough that lasts or problems breathing
  • Bowel problems or problems urinating
  • Rapid swelling in the stomach
  • Lasting nausea and vomiting
  • Lightheadedness, headache, or problems seeing or hearing
  • Slurred speech or unusual behavior
  • Weakness in the arm or leg
  • Rapid, irregular heartbeat or chest pain
  • Rash or hives; bruising or red dots on skin
  • A penis erection that does not go away

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.


American Sickle Cell Anemia Association

Sickle Cell Information Center


Sickle Cell Disease Association of Canada

Sickle Cell Association of Ontario


Patient education: teaching the patient with sickle cell disease. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: https://www.ebscohost.com/nursing/products/nursing-reference-center. February 26, 2021.

Sickle cell disease in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/sickle-cell-disease-in-adults-and-adolescents. Accessed February 26, 2021.

What is sickle cell disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/sicklecell/facts.html. Accessed February 26, 2021

Last reviewed March 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD  Last Updated: 2/26/2021