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Sickle Cell Anemia

Helping with Sickle Cell in the Classroom

10/24/2006

Question:

I am a new teacher in an urban elementary school. I have heard that a number of our students suffer from sickle cell anemia. What can I do to help a student who is having a pain crisis? Is there any way to help them avoid a pain crisis?

Answer:

Eric Kraut, MD

This is a very important question. Unfortunately, there are very few things that can be done by nonphysicians or patients to prevent a sickle cell crisis. However, the social support system is important to help alleviate some of the emotional suffering. Just being sensitive to the effects on their ability to do their schoolwork will be helpful.  Please review the information below for some suggestions abouthow to

Sickle Cell Information for Teachers, Students, and Employers

Sickle Cell Disease is an inherited chronic illness, which results in anemia (low blood counts) episodes of pain and increased susceptibility to infections. Any complication, if severe or untreated can be life threatening. Immediate treatment at a hospital or sickle cell center is required under these circumstances.

Classroom and Workplace Guides

Sickle cell patients may be absent because of severe pain episodes caused by the blockage of blood flow to body organs or bones. These may require treatment in a hospital setting.

Make up work for students should be provided to keep the student current with assignments. A hospital or home-based teacher may be required for prolonged complications.

Allowing the individual to keep well hydrated with water may prevent pain episodes. Do not limit access to water as their requirements are increased. This will necessitate frequent bathroom breaks also as their kidneys cannot retain water as well. Let the individual keep a water bottle with them or allow frequent water breaks.

Pain episodes may also be prevented by not allowing the individual to become over heated or exposed to cold temperatures.

Because of their anemia, individuals with sickle cell may tire before others and a rest period may be appropriate. Encourage gym and sports participation but allow the person to stop without undue attention.

Sickle cell disease does not affect one's intelligence, but various factors of this lifelong illness may impair academic performance. These should be identified and addressed as they would for any child. Academic performance is important as the life expectancy for those with sickle cell is now up in the forth and fifth decade. Those with sickle cell can become professionals like doctors, engineers, and lawyers as well as anyone.

Sickle cell patients may have a yellow tint to their eyes because of the anemia; this is not usually a liver problem. They also may have a shorter stature and delayed puberty.

Those with sickle cell should be treated as normal as possible with an awareness that they may have intermittent episodes of pain, infection or fatigue that can be treated and sometimes prevented though adequate water intake, avoiding temperature extremes and over doing it.

Learn about sickle cell and understand the challenges that may be faced. Have a plan of action with the individual to do what you can to keep them productive and complication free.

Medical Attention is needed when:

The individual should seek medical attention if the following occurs: fever, headache, chest pain, abdominal pain, numbness or weakness. A mild pain episode may be managed with increased fluid intake and a non-narcotic pain pill like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

What You Can Do

The following was taken directly from The Sickle Cell Information Center and prepared for display on NetWellness by Valerie Mann-Jiles, MSN, APRN, BC, Adult Sickle Cell Nurse Practitioner, and Saquena Atkins, MSW, LSW, Adult Sickle Cell Social Worker, James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, The Ohio State University.

For more information:

Go to the Sickle Cell Anemia health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Eric H Kraut, MD Eric H Kraut, MD
Professor of Hematology
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University