As people with sickle cell disease are more vulnerable to infections, treatment will usually be needed to reduce this risk. Most people need to take a daily dose of antibiotics (usually penicillin), often for the rest of their lives. Long-term use of antibiotics won’t pose any serious risks to health.
Children with sickle cell disease should also have all the routine vaccinations, and additional vaccinations such as the annual flu vaccine and the hepatitis B vaccine.
Anemia often causes few symptoms and may not require specific treatment.
However, dietary supplements such as folic acid (which helps stimulate the production of red blood cells) may sometimes be required to help improve anemia if your child has a restricted diet, such as a vegetarian diet.
Anemia caused by sickle cell disease isn’t the same as the more common iron deficiency anemia. Sickle cell anemia patients should not take iron supplements to treat it without seeking medical advice to avoid danger.
If anemia is particularly severe or persistent, treatment with blood transfusions or hydroxycarbamide may be necessary.
Stem cell or bone marrow transplants are the only cure for sickle cell disease, but they’re not done very often because of the significant risks involved.
Stem cells are special cells produced by bone marrow (a spongy tissue found in the center of some bones) that can turn into different types of blood cells.
For a stem cell transplant, stem cells from a healthy donor are given through a drip into a vein. These cells then start to produce healthy red blood cells to replace the sickle cells.
A stem cell transplant is an intensive treatment that carries a number of risks. The main risk is graft versus host disease, which is a life-threatening problem where the transplanted cells start to attack the other cells in your body.
Stem cell transplants are generally only considered in children with sickle cell disease who have severe symptoms that haven’t responded to other treatments, when the long-term benefits of a transplant are thought to outweigh the possible risks.