Managing Pain & Fatigue 

Living with Sickle Cell

Building a foundation of healthy habits can help you live a full life and enjoy many activities with sickle cell.

Living With Sickle Cell Disease

Find good medical care

Sickle cell is a complex condition that can be difficult to understand. Good medical care from doctors and nurses who are familiar with the condition can help prevent serious problems. It is a good idea to include a hematologist (a blood specialist) in your care plan. You can find a specialist here, and ask your current healthcare provider about routine checkups. Be sure to always talk to your healthcare professionals about your symptoms and care plan.

Prevent infections

Common illnesses like the flu can be dangerous when you have sickle cell. Practice good hygiene daily with hand-washing and food safety.

Develop healthy habits

Hydration and nutrition are very important for people living with sickle cell. Staying well-hydrated may help prevent dehydration (when one has too little water in the body) -- which can be important as dehydration may lead to a pain crisis. It’s especially important to drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise or physical activity. Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of calcium-rich foods like low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, leafy green vegetables and calcium-fortified foods like soy milk, orange juice and tofu. It can help to add nutrient-rich, high-calorie foods like dried fruit, nuts and smoothies to your diet as well.

Manage fatigue

To help with fatigue, it is important to practice a good sleep routine, which means building healthy habits that support sleep. Some of these habits include:

  • Limiting naps to less than 30 minutes
  • Limiting caffeine to the morning
  • Having a bedtime routine that you follow every night
  • Making your bedroom pleasant, dark and as free of distractions as possible

Maintain a balanced body temperature

Try not to get too hot or too cold. Physical activity should be part of your life, but don’t overdo it. Listen to Dalilah and Mekhi talk about how they pay attention to their bodies.

Get support

Your family and friends can help you check your health and be there to listen to you. Even if you’re the only one in your family with sickle cell, like Dalilah, your family can still help. You may want to find a group or community organization that can provide information and support (you can see a list of groups here). Talking with people who know what you’re going through can make all the difference. It can provide a network of people to learn from.

Talk with your healthcare provider about clinical studies that might be right for you

New clinical studies about sickle cell are starting all the time. Ask your healthcare provider whether any studies might be right for you. 

Pain Management

The severity of pain caused by sickle cell can range from no pain to mild pain to severe pain. Likewise, the methods to relieve pain also can be different. Here are some good general rules to follow:

Talk with your healthcare provider

Discuss your symptoms and create a plan to help relieve your pain. This may include medicine and other relief methods, including heating pads or physical therapy.

Look for pain triggers

Every time you’re in sudden pain, try to figure out what may have caused it. Although it may not be obvious at first, keeping a log over time can help you identify triggers.

Find what works for you

No one pain relief method works for everybody. You may have to try different things, such as a warm bath, massage or acupuncture. Also, do the things that help you relax, like listening to music or hanging out with friends. Reducing stress can also help reduce your pain.

Managing Pain Without Medication

You might find that you can get pain relief with options other than medicines. It is important to discuss all pain management approaches with your healthcare provider to figure out what is best for you.

Physical Approaches

  • Hydration
  • Heat
  • Massage
  • Acupuncture/acupressure
  • Blood transfusions
  • Physical therapy
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation

Psychological Approaches

  • Distraction
  • Imagery
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Psychotherapy

Behavioral Approaches

  • Deep breathing
  • Relaxation
  • Meditation or yoga
  • Self-hypnosis
  • Biofeedback
  • Behavior modification


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November 2023.

This website is intended for U.S. residents.

The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace discussions with a healthcare provider.