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What Triggers a Sickle Cell Crisis for Me




There are some situations that clearly trigger sickle cell crisis but most triggers are unknown. Sometimes, after you’ve done all you know to stay healthy, you still get sick.


Once at church a brother asked me: “If you already know the things that trigger sickle cell then why don’t you just avoid them so you won’t be sick?” I find such thinking illogical. Yes we do know and try to avoid many of the triggers to sickle cell, but even so you can still get sick. Just like being clean and making sure your environment is clean doesn’t mean you will never get ill. In the same way, sicklers do the best they can to avoid getting sick, but sometimes they still end up with a crisis for no apparent reason. The best thing you can do for someone who is suffering is to try to be understanding and empathetic and not judge them.


·        Being dehydrated

·        Extreme temperatures( hot or cold)

·        Stress

·        Exercise

·        High altitudes( hypoxia)

·        Strenuous activities


·        Infections( including malaria Infection)


Exercise causes body exertion. When you exert your body it uses up more oxygen. Sickle cells already have a limited capacity to carry oxygen due to their sickle shape and this is intensified during exercise. This causes low oxygen in the red blood cells causing them to stick together, block blood vessels and cause severe pain. When you exercise you feel hot and you sweat. This may lead to dehydration thus increasing the clumping of red blood cells.


Most healthy adults do not suffer from dehydration but sickle cell patients often do because their kidneys do not absorb as much water as a healthy person hence more water is lost via the urine. This lower ability to concentrate urine is called hyposthenuria and may be caused by the sickling of red blood cells in the kidneys preventing the kidneys from functioning optimally.

Extreme weather temperatures

Lower temperatures cause the blood vessels to constrict and become narrower in an attempt to preserve body heat and prevent heat loss. When this happens, the already sickle cells have a hard time moving freely through these constricted vessels and tend to get stuck thus causing the vessels to get blocked. This is what causes the very severe joint pains as the blood vessels in the joints are narrower.


When I suffer from pneumonia my lungs are affected and I have difficulties breathing. As a result, my body gets even less oxygen leading to a state of hypoxia and sickling.

Infections like malaria and others can cause fever, diarrhoea and vomiting. These can lead to dehydration thus triggering a crisis.

Your body needs a lot of energy and oxygen when fighting an infection. This can lead to low oxygen tension in the blood which causes sickling.


My personal triggers are stress, strenuous exercise, anemia, infections and extreme temperatures.

How about you? What usually triggers a crisis for you?

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