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Exp Physiol. 2018 Sep;103(9):1213-1220. doi: 10.1113/EP087169. Epub 2018 Aug 18.

Do we have to consider acidosis induced by exercise as deleterious in sickle cell disease?

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Laboratoire Interuniversitaire de Biologie de la Motricité, Université Savoie Mont Blanc, EA 7424, F-73000, Chambéry, France.
CNRS, CRMBM, Aix-Marseille Université, Marseille, France.



What is the topic of this review? The aim of this review is to discuss the potential involvement of exercise-induced acidosis in the commonly reported complications in sickle cell disease. What advances does it highlight? Blood acidosis appears clearly to be a risk factor for HbS polymerization, red blood cell sickling and the occurrence of vaso-occlusive crisis and could induce hyperkalaemia-related complications. It could be of great interest to try to avoid blood acidosis during exercise, which could be done using some alkalinizing solutions or adapted endurance training interventions.


Sickle cell disease (SCD) is an inherited haemoglobin (Hb) disorder and the most common monogenic disease in the world. The root cause of this pathology is the synthesis of an abnormal Hb (HbS) that polymerizes in deoxygenated conditions, leading to the sickling of red blood cells. Acidosis is well recognized as a promoter of HbS polymerization and therefore red blood cell sickling. Indeed, it has been shown in vitro that the relative amount of sickled red blood cells increases markedly from 1% at pH 7.4 to >90% at pH 7.0. Nevertheless, no study has directly tested whether exercise-induced acidosis could favour SCD complications. Greater knowledge of the effects of metabolic acidosis during exercise could be of importance given the conclusions reached in several studies that proposed regular physical exercise as a therapeutic strategy in the management of SCD. In this review, we discuss the potential consequences of exercise-induced acidosis for the pathophysiology of SCD. We also propose some potential therapeutic interventions with the aim of reducing the metabolic acidosis related to exercise.


exercise therapy; pH; sickle cell anaemia; vaso-occlusive crisis

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