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Pain Med. 2009 Apr;10(3):470-80. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4637.2009.00601.x.

Pain syndromes in sickle cell disease: an update.

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Haematology Division, Sant'Eugenio Hospital, Rome, Italy.



Pain has a critical role in the management of sickle cell disease (SCD). Patients may suffer from several pain syndromes, which may be or not may be associated with other clinical complications, such as anemia, organ failures, and infections.


Data for review were identified by using PubMed to search MEDLINE, limiting the search to abstract/articles in English, Italian, French, and Dutch. The key words pain, sickle cell disease, anemia, hemoglobin, hemoglobinopathy, analgesics, opioids, morphine, acetaminophen, paracetamol, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, hematology, and quality of life were variously combined in the title, abstract, and key word search list. The abstract database of most hematological congresses and the bibliographies of most relevant articles were also considered.


There are two major types of SCD pain: acute and chronic. Sometimes, mixed and neuropathic pain can be also observed. Acute pain is mostly related to vaso-occlusion. Chronic pain may be due to some SCD complications, such as leg ulcers and avascular necrosis.


Pain management in the SCD setting needs multidisciplinary approaches, given the several syndromes and the pathogenic mechanisms that are likely involved. Pain management is not standardized and often difficult, so that many patients with SCD are still poorly treated. Further efforts to develop care plans and treatment protocols as well as management guidelines are required.

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