Lifestyle Changes to Manage Sickle Cell Disease
While lifestyle changes will not cure sickle cell disease, taking good care of yourself may reduce the frequency and severity of acute sickle cell crises and may prevent other complications.
Good nutrition can improve your general well being, boost your immune system, improve your body’s ability to fight infection, and optimize your body’s ability to produce more red blood cells to compensate for the anemia of sickle cell disease.
Folic acid, in particular, is important for red blood cell production.
It’s important to drink at least eight full glasses of water each day. If you allow yourself to become dehydrated, you risk having more problems with your red blood cells clumping and sticking in your blood vessels, leading to sickle cell crisis.
While reasonable exercise is important for building strength and maintaining energy, you need to talk to your doctor about what kinds of exercise are best for you. Unfortunately, strenuous physical activity can lower your body’s oxygen level, thus increasing your risk of having a sickle cell crisis.
Staying well rested will allow your body to stay as healthy as possible.
It’s important to stay in bed during an acute sickle cell crisis. This reduces your body’s need for oxygen and may reduce potential organ and tissue damage.
Develop good lines of communication with your doctor so that you know when to call about symptoms. Be sure to seek rapid medical attention for any illness associated with fever of 101°F ( 38.5°C) or greater.
Both physical and emotional stress are believed to trigger acute sickle cell crisis. Learning to avoid these kinds of stress and teaching yourself how to relax can be keys to improved health.
Meeting and talking with other people who are dealing with sickle cell disease can be very helpful. Dealing with a chronic disease is extremely stressful and anxiety provoking. Sharing coping strategies with other people who can understand the challenges you’re facing can help relieve some of your stress.
Avoid tobacco, cocaine, methamphetamines, and alcohol as these have been shown to precipitate painful crises.
Do not keep turtles, snakes, or lizards as pets, as they may carry salmonella bacteria that are particularly dangerous for people with sickle cell disease. Thoroughly cook chicken and eggs before eating: these foods are possible sources of salmonella.
Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 22nd ed. W.B. Saunders Company; 2003.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
website. Available at:
Sickle Cell Disease Association of America
website. Available at:
Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine. 17th ed. New York, NY: McGraw – Hill; 2008.
Last reviewed October 2012 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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