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What Are the Symptoms of a Sickle Cell Crisis?

Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality healthcare, explores sickle cell crisis symptoms.

Have you ever accidentally dropped something down the sink? If the item was little and of low value, you just flushed it through the pipes with running water.

But if you dropped a large item, your kitchen pipes would get blocked.

A sudden and dangerous blockage in the blood vessels is how a sickle cell crisis happens.

What is Sickle Cell Disease?

Sickle cell disease is a genetic condition. Gene mutations instruct the body to produce an iron-rich substance in red blood cells called haemoglobin.


Red blood cells are often spherical and flexible. They flow readily throughout the body. But cells with sickle cell disease (SCD) twist and stiffen. They look like a sickle hook used to cut corn or hay.


SCD red blood cells are less flexible. They lodge themselves in narrow blood arteries, resulting in a sickle cell crisis.

What Causes Sickle Cell Crisis?

You may not know why you experienced a crisis. There may be many causes.


Stimuli include:
  • Being at a high elevation (mountain climbing, for example)
  • Changes in temperature, such as going from a warm house to a chilly winter day
  • Infections
  • Dehydration
  • Stress

Symptoms of a Sickle Cell Crisis

The most common symptom is pain that appears out of nowhere and may be mild, stabbing, throbbing, or acute. How bad it is and how long it lasts vary between individuals. Some people experience crises sometimes, while others may experience them every month.

You may have pain everywhere on your body and in many locations, although it often occurs in your:

  • Hands and feet
  • Chest
  • Fingers and toes (more typical in young children)
  • The lower back

You may also have:

  • Shortness of breath or pain when breathing
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Headache or dizziness
  • Weakness or difficulty moving certain body parts
  • Yellowish complexion (jaundice)

“Many patients describe a severe sickle cell crisis as a stabbing migraine throughout the body. Some note that it feels like many fractures at once,” says Murray Hewlett, Affinity Health CEO.

“Each person with sickle cell disease has a different experience. But all agree that the pain is debilitating.”

How is Sickle Cell Crisis Treated?

There are a few helpful medications that prove effective in averting these crises. Often, your doctor will tell you to do the following:

  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen.
  • Try a heating pad, a hot bath, or a massage.
  • Physiotherapy
  • Counselling
  • Relaxation
  • Meditation
  • Support from family and friends is essential to maintaining your health.

About Affinity Health

Affinity Health is the leading provider of affordable medical insurance in South Africa. Members enjoy access to a network of healthcare providers. We have designed healthcare products to protect you and your family when it matters the most. We strive to give our clients peace of mind and the highest standard of service. For more information, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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