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Evaluation of acute pain in sickle cell disease

Michael R DeBaun, MD, MPH
Elliott P Vichinsky, MD
Section Editors
Donald H Mahoney, Jr, MD
Stanley L Schrier, MD
Deputy Editor
Jennifer S Tirnauer, MD


Acute painful episodes are likely to be the most common reason for individuals with sickle cell disease (SCD) to seek medical attention.

When a patient with SCD presents with pain, the evaluation (to characterize the pain and uncover any associated conditions) and the treatment for the pain (analgesia and other interventions) both need to occur rapidly. A major aspect of the evaluation involves distinguishing between pain due to vaso-occlusion and pain that signifies more serious complications of disease, which often require separate evaluations and treatments in addition to analgesia.

This topic review discusses the immediate evaluation of the individual with SCD who presents with acute pain, and the testing needed to identify other SCD complications or comorbidities that require treatment.

Separate topic reviews provide detailed discussions of our approaches to providing analgesia for acute vaso-occlusive pain, chronic SCD pain management, and the role of blood transfusion in treating acute SCD complications such as stroke, acute chest syndrome, and multiorgan failure.

Analgesia for acute pain – (See "Vaso-occlusive pain management in sickle cell disease", section on 'Acute pain management'.)

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Literature review current through: Oct 2017. | This topic last updated: Feb 03, 2017.
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