Blood transfusions increase the number of circulating red blood cells, treat anemia, improve oxygen delivery to organs and tissues, and prevent strokes in high-risk patients.
You may receive whole blood or packed red blood cells. A blood test will be performed to determine your blood type and to make sure you receive compatible blood. The blood will be given to you through a needle inserted into your vein. An antihistamine is sometimes given to help prevent allergic reactions during the transfusion. Your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure will be carefully monitored throughout the procedure.
Some medical centers are performing bone marrow transplants in an attempt to cure sickle cell disease. This involves replacing the bone marrow of a sickle cell patient with normal bone marrow from a healthy donor. There are many complications involved in this procedure, and it can be difficult to find a donor whose bone marrow characteristics match yours. If a good match isn’t found, your body will reject the new bone marrow.
If you undergo a bone marrow transplant, the first step will be to destroy your current bone marrow using high-dose chemotherapy agents. You’ll then be placed on immunosuppressive drugs to prevent your body from rejecting the new donor marrow. You’ll need to take these drugs for the rest of your life. After the donor has had bone marrow removed, it will be filtered and then dripped into your body through a tube inserted into a large vein in your chest.
People with sickle cell anemia are more likely to get infections with certain types of bacteria. It is important that children between the ages of 2 and 5 receive the pneumococcal vaccine. This vaccine can prevent the development of pneumococcal pneumonia, a frequent complication for sickle cell patients. They should also receive all other standard immunizations, such as yearly flu shots.
While you are hospitalized for treatment of an acute sickle cell crisis, you will be given oxygen. This will help restore the amount of oxygen in your system and help stop other red blood cells from sickling.
Oxygen can be given to you through prongs at the opening of your nostrils or through a mask. The level of oxygen in your blood may be checked continuously by taping a small monitor called a pulse oximeter to your finger or toe.
Because dehydration can worsen symptoms and complications during an acute crisis, you’ll be given fluids through an IV needle during your hospital stay. These fluids will contain a careful balance of important chemicals called electrolytes that your body needs, including sodium, potassium, and sugar.
Many centers use color doppler ultrasound for people with sickle cell to regularly check the rate of blood flow through the arteries in the neck. When blood flow speeds up there is an increased risk of stroke, which is a serious sickle cell complication. With this type of screening, blood transfusions can be given when—or possibly before—the speed of blood flow rises to potentially dangerous levels, which can decrease the risk of stroke.
Complications and treatments. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/sicklecell/treatments.html. Updated August 31, 2016. Accessed December 13, 2016.
How is sickle cell disease treated? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sca/treatment. Updated August 2, 2016. Accessed December 13, 2016.
Sickle cell disease. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/sickle-cell-anemia.html. Updated September 2012. Accessed July 1, 2013.
Sickle cell disease in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T902929/Sickle-cell-disease-in-adults-and-adolescents. Updated October 4, 2016. Accessed October 5, 2016.
Sickle cell disease in infants and children. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T902928/Sickle-cell-disease-in-infants-and-children. Updated September 20, 2016. Accessed October 5, 2016.
Last reviewed December 2016 by Marcin Chwistek, MD Last Updated: 5/20/2015