Pain Common With Sickle Cell Disease

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Updated: 4/10 12:00 pm

Jan. 14, 2008 -- Pain is "the rule rather than exception" among adults with sickle cell disease, researchers report.

Sickle cell disease is an inherited condition in which certain red blood cells become crescent-shaped (sickled). That makes it hard for those cells to pass through narrow blood vessels, which deprives tissue of oxygen and causes pain.

Experts at the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University studied 232 people age 16 and older (average age: 32) with sickle cell disease.

For six months, the patients kept daily diaries about their sickle cell pain. Those diaries show that:

  • 29% of the patients reported sickle cell pain nearly every day.
  • 54% reported pain on more than half of the days.
  • Only 14% rarely reported pain.
  • Average pain intensity was in the middle of the study's pain scale.

The patients often didn't go see a doctor about their sickle cell pain, handling it at home instead.

"Our results are both surprising and striking," write Virginia Commonwealth University's Wally Smith, MD, and colleagues. "Pain in adults with sickle cell disease is far more prevalent and severe than previous studies have portrayed, and it is mostly managed at home."

Smith's team concludes that sickle cell disease should be recognized as a source of chronic pain. The study appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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