Your Health

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.

General Guidelines for Managing Sickle Cell Disease

  • Eat a balanced diet, including folic acid supplementation
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Avoid excessive exercise
  • Get sufficient rest
  • Rest in bed during acute sickle cell crisis
  • Avoid emotional and physical stress
  • Consider joining a support group
  • Avoid factors that can worsen your condition or lead to infection
Eat a Balanced Diet, Including Folic Acid Supplementation

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.

Drink Plenty of Water

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.

Avoid Excessive Exercise

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.

Get Sufficient Rest

Staying well rested will allow your body to stay as healthy as possible.

Rest in Bed During an Acute Sickle Cell Crisis

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 degrees Fahrenheit (38.5 degrees Celsius) or greater.

Avoid Physical and Emotional Stress

Both physical and emotional stress is 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.

Consider Joining a Support Group

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 Factors That Can Worsen Your Condition or Lead to Infection

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.

Revision Information

  • Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 22nd ed. W.B. Saunders; 2003.

  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov .

  • Sickle Cell Disease Association of America website. Available at: http://www.sicklecelldisease.org .

  • Weiner CM. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine. 17th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill; 2008.