Sickle cell disease: Types of treatments and medications

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Managing and treating sickle cell disease may involve different types of treatments and medications. Learn what these are and why it is important to talk to the health-care team about all your child's treatment and medications.

Key points

  • A number of treatments and medications are available for sickle cell disease, including red blood cell transfusions, stem cell transplants and various over-the-counter and prescribed medications.
  • Sickle cell treatments (that are not medications) can prevent complications. These are often given in hospital.
  • Over-the-counter medications and prescription medications are also used to manage sickle cell disease. Some are pills and liquids that are taken at home, and others need to be injected in the vein by a health-care provider.
  • It is important that you tell your child's health-care provider about all the treatments and medications your child receives, even if they are not directly related to sickle cell disease.

Treatments and medications for sickle cell disease can be grouped into three broad categories:

  1. Sickle cell treatments (that are not medications) are often provided in the hospital. They can prevent complications and lengthen the lives of those who have sickle cell disease. They usually differ for each person depending on the types of complications they experience and the seriousness of their condition. Treatments may include red blood cell transfusions and stem cell transplant.
  2. Over-the-counter medications are medications you can buy at a drugstore without a prescription. Examples include acetaminophen, ibuprofen and most antihistamines.
  3. Prescription medications are medications that are prescribed (recommended) by a health-care provider in a specific dose. You can only buy these medications when you provide the prescription from the health-care provider. Some prescription medications are pills or liquids that your child takes at home. Others must be injected into their vein by a health-care provider, usually in the hospital.

General points about medications

Two prescription medication bottles on a doctor's desk. The doctor sits at the desk and writes on a notepad in the background
  • Medications can include pills, creams or ointments, patches and injections.
  • Medications have two different names. The generic name is the name of the active ingredient in the drug, for example ibuprofen. The brand name is the name given to the drug by the company that makes it, for example Advil® or Motrin®.
  • Sometimes, people with sickle cell disease need to take more than one medication at the same time.
  • The medication dose for your child is based on their weight, age and symptoms. Try not to compare their medication dose with those of others.
  • All medications can cause side effects. It is important to discuss the different possible side effects with your child's health-care provider so they can help your child manage them.
  • Your child needs to take their medications exactly as their health-care provider prescribes them. Following medication instructions will help avoid harm from taking too much medication or from interactions (problems that happen when certain medications are taken together).

Important: The information on this website is for educational purposes only. It does not replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your health-care provider if you or your child wish to stop or change their medications.

As you read through the material, remember that not all complications need to be managed with medications, and not all medications are suitable for all age groups or for all types of sickle cell disease.

Why it is important to talk to your child's health-care team about their medications

Tell your child's health-care provider about all the medications your child is using, even those not directly for sickle cell disease. These include:

  • prescription and over-the-counter drugs
  • vitamins, minerals or supplements
  • naturopathic or homeopathic therapies

Even if these items are “natural”, they still have the ability to interact with your child's medications or cause side effects.

Always talk to the health-care team about all the medications that your child or teen might be interested in trying, or encourage your teen to talk to their health-care provider. This includes additional over-the-counter medication for pain relief and any other drugs, including alcohol or marijuana, which can interact with prescribed medications. Sharing this information will help your child avoid harmful side effects or drug interactions.

Make sure you tell your child's health-care provider about any other medical conditions they might have. This information can affect the health-care provider's choice of medications to prescribe.

Last updated: January 31st 2024