What is a sickle cell pain crisis (vaso-occlusive)?

A pain crisis occurs when sickled red blood cells block blood flow to the limbs and organs. This can cause pain and organ damage. The pain can be acute or chronic, but acute pain is more common. Acute pain is sudden and can range from mild to very severe. The pain usually lasts from hours to as long as a week or more. Many people also have chronic pain, especially in their bones. Chronic pain often lasts for weeks or months and can be hard to bear and mentally draining. Chronic pain may limit your daily activities.

Almost all people who have sickle cell have painful crises at some point in their lives. Some have these crises less than once a year. Others may have crises once a month or more. Repeated crises can damage the bones, kidneys, lungs, eyes, heart, and liver. This type of damage happens more often in adults than in children.

Many factors can play a role in sickle cell crises. Often, more than one factor is involved and the exact cause isn't known. You can control some factors. For example, the risk of a sickle cell crisis increases if you're dehydrated (your body doesn't have enough fluids). Drinking plenty of fluids can lower the risk of a painful crisis. You can't control other factors, such as infections.

Painful crises are the leading cause of emergency room visits and hospital stays for people who have sickle cell disease.



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