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Medications for Sickle Cell Disease

There are no medicines to cure sickle cell disease. Medicines are given to treat symptoms and related health problems. They are also given to prevent certain problems. Here are the basics about each of the medicines below. Only common problems with them are listed.

Prescription Medications

Hydroxyurea

L-glutamine

Voxelotor

Crizanlizumab

Penicillin

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

  • Indomethacin
  • Ketorolac
  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

Opioids

  • Tramadol
  • Hydrocodone
  • Buprenorphine
  • Tapendatol
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Methadone
  • Fentanyl

Over-the-Counter Medications

Aspirin

Acetaminophen

Prescription Medications

 

Hydroxyurea

Hydroxyurea helps the body produce more normal red blood cells. The cells do not block blood vessels as often. Most people who take this medicine need fewer blood transfusions than those who do not. It can also reduce the number of pain episodes.

Some problems may be:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased risk of infection
  • Skin, hair, and nail changes
 

L-glutamine

L-glutamine powder can be mixed in food or drinks. It may help reduce the number of pain crises.

Some problems may be:

  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Pain in the belly, back, chest, hands, and feet
  • Cough
 

Voxelotor

Voxelotor may help reduce anemia. It helps red blood cells keep their normal shape.

Some problems may be:

  • Headache
  • Belly pain, diarrhea, or nausea
  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Rash
 

Crizanlizumab

Crizanlizumab is given as an injection. It can help reduce the number of pain crises.

Some problems may be:

  • Nausea
  • Pain in the back or joints
  • Fever
 

Penicillin

Penicillin is given to children up to age 5. This is to prevent infections such as pneumococcal pneumonia. It is sometimes given to adults, too.

Some problems may be:

  • Diarrhea
  • Allergic rash
  • Birth control pills may not work
  • False results on blood sugar tests—in people with diabetes
 

Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Common names are:

  • Indomethacin
  • Ketorolac
  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

NSAIDs are given to treat pain. They may be given over-the-counter or by prescription. It depends on the type and dose.

Some problems may be:

 

Opioids

Common names are:

  • Vicodin
  • Hysingla
  • MS Contin
  • Dolophine
  • OxyContin
  • Dilaudid
  • Fentanyl
  • Nucynta
  • Butrans
  • Belbuca

Opioids are given to treat pain. They can slow breathing. They should not be mixed with alcohol. They should not be taken with other pain medicines or sedatives.

Problems may be:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Sleepiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth

Over-the-Counter Medications

 

Aspirin

Aspirin helps control inflammation and reduce pain. It should be taken with food.

Problems may be:

  • Belly irritation
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Worsening of asthma
  • Increased bleeding time
 

Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen eases mild pain. It also treats fevers. High doses of this medicine can damage the liver. Alcohol should be avoided while using this medicine.

REFERENCES:

Complications and treatments. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/sicklecell/treatments.html. Accessed January 29, 2021.

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. Accessed January 29, 2021.

Pinto VM, Balocco M, et al. Sickle cell disease: a review for the internist. Intern Emerg Med. 2019;14(7):1051-1064.

Sickle cell disease. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/sickle-cell-anemia.html. Accessed January 29, 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 March 3, 2021.

Sickle cell disease in infants and children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/sickle-cell-disease-in-infants-and-children Accessed March 3, 2021.

Last reviewed March 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD  Last Updated: 3/5/2021