How does Sickle Cell Disease affect nerve pain?

father holds son comforting him

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that sickle cell disease affects approximately 100,000 Americans. The disease occurs in 1 out of every 365 African-American births and the trait is found in about 1 in 13 African-American babies. ​

With April being National Minority Health month, we’re taking this opportunity to specifically focus on diseases that most affect minority groups, such as sickle cell disease and the nerve pain that can accompany its effects. ​

What is sickle cell disease exactly? To start, you have to understand what a normal red blood cell looks like and does. In a healthy body, red blood cells are round and go through small vessels to carry oxygen throughout the body. In an individual with sickle cell disease, from birth their blood cells form into an abnormal c-shape, causing blockage and restriction of oxygen and blood flow to the body. Long-term health risks associated with sickle cell disease include infection, acute chest syndrome, stroke, and chronic pain.​

When cells “sickle” beyond their baseline, this can cause severe pain episodes anywhere throughout the body that the blood travels, according to Jeffrey Kim, MD,a physician at Loma Linda University’s Family Medicine. There is no one specific cause for these pain episodes. It can be anything from colder weather, stress, infection, or even age — but the pain is often debilitating because of how much of the body is affected and often requires intravenous medication to ease it during an episode. ​

“Since it’s a genetic disease, patients have been experiencing this debilitating pain their entire lives,” Kim says. “The common description of this disease is that it’s the most painful thing you can imagine.”​

So how to sickle cell patients treat their nerve pain? Current options include a chemo-therapy treatment called Hydroxyurea, which can cause an array of side effects including nerve damage specifically called “chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy” (CIPN). The other option is powerful opioid medications, which can bring their own complications and stigmas. Moreover, these treatments don’t necessarily help with the long-term nerve damage and chronic pain as a result of the disease.  ​

“Fortunately, there may be alternative options that can supplement current treatments to help relieve some of that chronic and neuropathic pain for sickle cell patients,” Kim says. 

For those who suffer from sickle cell disease, alternative treatments such as INF™ can prove to be an effective way to restore blood flow to damaged nerves and eliminate the pain that patients experience.​

“Neuropathic inflammation will result from a sickle cell crisis and needs to be addressed for the acute pain to subside,” says Mark Bussell, DPT, BS, OCS, pioneer of the INF treatment. “By utilizing INF, we have been able to relieve neuropathic inflammation created by sickle cell disease and improve the quality of life of many people suffering with this disease. I am excited to have this treatment available for future patients who are suffering from sickle cell disease.”​

Remember, you are not alone in your struggles with sickle cell disease or the pain you experience. While there may not be a cure now, there are options to help you deal with your pain symptoms. Be sure to talk with your physician about sickle cell treatment options. He or she may recommend INF™ treatments as a supplemental option to help reduce your chronic pain.  ​

If you or someone you care about suffer from sickle cell disease, be sure to attend the Loma Linda University Health PossAbilities program SCD Adult and Family Support Group and Educational Series, occurring the second Thursday of each month from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. To learn more call 909-558-6384 or visit SCD support group website.

Share this post