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Medications for Sickle Cell Disease

The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medications listed below. Only the most general side effects are included, so ask your health care provider if you need to take any special precautions. Use each of these medications only as recommended by your health care provider, and according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your health care provider.

There are no medications to cure sickle cell disease. Instead, medications are given to treat symptoms and complications, improve the body’s ability to fight infection, and boost the body’s production of red blood cells.

Prescription Medications

Hydroxyurea

Penicillin

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

  • Indomethacin
  • Ketorolac
  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

Opioids

  • Cotanal-65
  • Demerol
  • Dolophine
  • MS Contin
  • OxyContin

Over-the-Counter Medications

Aspirin

Acetaminophen

Prescription Medications

Hydroxyurea

Hydroxyurea is a chemotherapy agent often used to treat cancers, such as leukemia. It appears to help the body produce slightly more normal red blood cells that are slightly more flexible and don’t block blood vessels as frequently. Most people who take hydroxyurea need fewer blood transfusions than those who do not.

Hydroxyurea affects your immune system. While you are taking it, don’t get any immunizations without reminding your healthcare provider that you are taking this drug.

Possible side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased chance of infection
Penicillin

Penicillin is given routinely to children between the ages of 2 months and 5 years who have sickle cell disease. Penicillin can prevent these children from developing infections, especially pneumococcal pneumonia. It is sometimes given to adults, too.

Possible side effects include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Allergic rash
  • Interference with birth control pills
  • False results on blood sugar tests in people with diabetes
Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Common names include:

  • Indomethacin
  • Ketorolac
  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

NSAIDs are given to treat pain. Although some types are available over-the-counter, your healthcare provider may choose to give you a prescription so that you can take a higher dose.

Take your doses with food because many of these medications irritate the stomach. Don’t drink alcohol while you are taking NSAIDs.

Possible side effects include:

Opioids

Common brand names include:

  • Cotanal-65
  • Demerol
  • Dolophine
  • MS Contin
  • OxyContin

Opioids are given to treat pain. They can slow your breathing. You should not drink alcohol or take other pain medications or sedatives at the same time.

Possible side effects include:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth
  • Dependence

Over-the-Counter Medications

Aspirin

Aspirin helps control inflammation and decrease pain. Aspirin can be irritating to the stomach, so take it with food.

Because aspirin has blood-thinning properties, always remind your healthcare providers that you are taking it before dental or medical procedures, or surgeries.

NOTE: Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving a child aspirin.

Possible side effects include:

  • Stomach irritation
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Exacerbation of asthma
  • Increased bleeding time
Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen is a mild pain reliever. It is also effective for treating fevers. Do not drink alcohol while you are taking acetaminophen.

Special Considerations

If you are taking medications, follow these general guidelines:

  • Take the medication as directed. Do not change the amount or the schedule.
  • Ask what side effects could occur. Report them to your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescription medication.
  • Plan ahead for refills if you need them.
  • Do not share your prescription medication with anyone.
  • Medications can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to your doctor if you are taking more than one medication, including over-the-counter products and supplements.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Contact your doctor if:

  • Your symptoms worsen
  • You develop a new skin rash
  • You develop a fever

Revision Information

  • Complications and treatments. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/sicklecell/treatments.html. Updated September 27, 2012. Accessed July 1, 2013.

  • 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 September 28, 2012. Accessed July 1, 2013.

  • Sickle cell disease. Nemours Kids Health 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 6, 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 6, 2016.