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Understanding Triggers

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Stress can be associated with Sickle cell crises. It is impossible to eliminate stress, but you can take steps to reduce its impact on your health and mood. See the Self Care modules on Reframing and Managing Emotions to learn more.


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Bacterial and viral infections are associated with flares of sickle cell in some patients. Some viral infections, such as pneumococcal disease, RSV, Haemophilus influenzae type B, and Parvovirus B19 are associated with more significant symptoms. Not all infections cause sickle cell flares, however. Let your doctor know if you are experiencing symptoms of infection in case you need treatment and to ask if you should change how you take your sickle cell medication.


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Some pain medications can damage your organs if taken regularly. Medications such as Advil, Motrin IB, and Aleve should be taken sparingly as these can cause damage to your kidneys.

Smoking and secondhand smoking is associated with more active sickle cell disease and can increase the risk of acute chest syndrome. Tobacco also contributes to increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, particularly in people with Sickle cell who are already at higher risk for these illnesses. Talk to your doctor about ways to quit. Visit or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW to find help quitting. Avoid places where second hand smoke is present.

Dehydration and Alcohol use

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Dehydration in individuals with sickle cell will increase the risk for blood clots and can induce sickle cell crises. Alcohol use, along with overconsumption of caffeine, will increase how quickly the body loses water and can cause a pain episode. Avoiding or limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption can reduce your risk of having one of these episodes.

Changes in Temperature and Altitude

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It has been shown that rapid changes in temperature, such as walking out of a warm house into the cold, can trigger a sickle cell crisis. You can help prevent this by dressing appropriately for the weather. Changes in altitude are also triggers for sickle cell crises, especially going into higher altitudes during activities such as mountain climbing.

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