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Trouble Breathing

Fatigue is a common symptom of Sickle Cell

Trouble Breathing

There are multiple reasons that you may start feeling short of breath which are related to SCD. Anemia (low red blood count) and asthma (trouble breathing) are some of the more common reasons. If you experience new sudden shortness of breath, it can be a medical emergency and you will need to be evaluated by a professional.


  • Sickled red blood cells (RBCs) have a lifespan of 17 days compared to a normal RBC lifespan of 120 days and there is a need to constantly replace RBCs. Stressful situations such as infections can cause a more severe anemia.
  • Treatment and prevention: Folic acid is a nutrient important in red blood cell formation, and supplementing it into your diet can help with preventing your blood count from being too low. Most common dosages are 1mg/day, speak with your doctor to help decide the best dose for you
    • Hydroxyurea is a FDA approved drug that helps to increase the number of “normal” RBCs and will therefore help to reduce the number of pain crises, blood transfusions, and hospital stays while also helping protect your organs.
    • Blood transfusions may also be an option if your blood counts drop too low. It is important to get tested for your blood type and have that information with you at all times in case of emergency.
    • If you have received multiple transfusions, you and your doctor should keep track of your iron levels as it is possible to develop an iron overload after transfusion. This can cause permanent organ damage but can be treated with medications if caught early.

Airway irritation and asthma

  • There is an increased risk for irritation in the lung or asthma in sickle cell individuals, especially children. This is thought to be due to the increased irritation in the airway but has yet to be fully explained. You can recognize this with symptoms of shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing or cough.
  • Treatment of asthma depends on how severe your symptoms are. Many individuals are able to have a rescue inhaler for severe episodes, while others may need other medications to ensure proper breathing. Speak with your doctor about your symptoms to help find the right treatment for you.
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