Sickle cell anemia: Will a warmer climate help?

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Sickle cell anemia: Will a warmer climate help?

Question

My brother has severe sickle cell anemia. Could moving to a warmer climate help him?

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Answer

Possibly. Sickle cell anemia is an inherited disease in which normally round red blood cells become crescent shaped. As a result, they can get stuck in small blood vessels, leading to painful episodes called "sickle cell crises."

A sickle cell pain crisis can be triggered by certain weather conditions, such as high winds and low humidity. Other common triggers include dehydration, stress, illness, infection, alcohol use, sleep apnea and high altitudes.

There's no definitive evidence of a direct relationship between cold weather and sickle cell crisis. Still, if cold weather seems to trigger these attacks, then moving to a warmer climate may be a consideration for your brother. However, this may not be a "cure." Individuals living in warmer climates are at increased risk of dehydration, which can just as easily cause a crisis.

There is no one right or wrong answer for reducing the risk of a sickle cell crisis. But clearly, in someone with severe sickle cell anemia, every effort should be made to try to alleviate signs and symptoms.

If your brother stays in a colder climate, he may reduce the risk of a pain crisis by avoiding going outside in very frigid weather, by wearing warm clothes outside in cold weather and by dressing in layers in air-conditioned rooms during hot weather. Also, he should avoid swimming in cold water.

Last Updated: 10/19/2006
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