Sickle Cell Disease Care
Why choose UCLA Health for sickle cell disease treatment?
The UCLA Health Sickle Cell Disease Program is the only dedicated, subspecialized program for patients with sickle cell disease in Los Angeles County. Our team of highly trained subspecialists focuses on inherited blood diseases. We address the unique needs of people with sickle cell disease, a blood disorder that causes wide-ranging symptoms and health complications. This dedicated-care model significantly reduces the risk of hospitalization and complications for patients with this complex condition.
Highlights of our program include:
Team-based, specialized treatment: Our sickle cell disease treatment team includes primary care providers (PCPs) with specific training in sickle cell disease in children and adults, hematologists, pain management specialists, neurologists, orthopaedic specialists, infectious disease specialists, transfusion medicine specialists, pulmonologists, cardiologists, nephrologists, ophthalmologists, dentists, psychologists, physical therapists and more. This multispecialty model allows us to provide timely, coordinated treatment for all the unique needs or possible complications of sickle cell disease.
Access to clinical trial treatment is essential for discovery and research. Clinical trials provide patients with improved treatment options that can impact patient outcomes.
Coordinated care: Through our program, you have easy access to a sickle cell disease-trained PCP. An expert hematologist attends your annual checkup to provide consultation and ask further questions about your health history and treatment. PCPs may also make referrals to additional specialists or integrative medicine providers as needed. Our coordinated approach helps ensure you receive the ongoing care you need without visiting the hospital or emergency department for pain or other complications.
Specialized social workers: Navigating medical care for a chronic disease can be complex, but we make sure you’re not alone. Our dedicated medical social workers can help you connect to support groups, find transportation or fill housing or food needs. They can also help you coordinate your medical appointments or transition from pediatric to adult care.
What is sickle cell disease?
Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder that causes stiff, crescent-shaped red blood cells that adhere to each other. Typically, red blood cells are smooth and disc-shaped.
The average lifespan of a healthy red blood cell is three months. While sickle cells can live for several weeks, they are fragile and can break down. This leads to a chronic shortage of red blood cells (anemia), also known as sickle cell anemia. Sickle cell anemia may cause fatigue, dizziness or shortness of breath. People with sickle cell disease also have an increased risk of infections, lung problems, vision loss and stroke.
Sickle cell disease is characterized by episodes of severe pain. The sickle cell shape of red blood cells can block small blood vessels, leading to pain so intense it prompts visits to the emergency room. Many people experience pain in the limbs, chest or back. With ongoing treatment, however, many people have fewer pain episodes and a lower risk of complications.
Sickle cell disease treatments we offer
Sickle cell disease management typically focuses on reducing symptoms and lowering your risk of complications. Your personalized treatment plan may include:
Lifestyle changes: Some lifestyle changes can help manage pain episodes. Your provider may recommend you drink plenty of water and avoid extreme temperature changes, high altitudes or environments with low oxygen levels.
Medications: Your provider may prescribe oral or intravenous (IV) medications to reduce the frequency of pain episodes, increase blood flow, lower your risk of anemia or relieve pain during severe flare-ups.
Infection prevention: It’s important to stay up to date on all your vaccinations to lower your risk of infection. Your provider may also recommend taking penicillin regularly if you have a history of pneumonia or have had your spleen removed.
Blood transfusions: You receive healthy red blood cells through an IV line. This treatment can help reduce sickle cell disease symptoms and lower your risk of complications such as stroke.
Iron chelation therapy: People who receive regular blood transfusions have a higher risk of iron overload, a condition that occurs when you have too much iron. Your provider may prescribe iron chelators, drugs that treat iron overload.
Stem cell transplant: This procedure replaces diseased bone marrow with healthy bone marrow from a donor. Stem cell transplants show promise as a cure for sickle cell anemia.
Clinical trial treatments: Patients at UCLA Health may have access to promising new therapies through clinical trials. You may ask your provider if you qualify for a clinical trial to treat sickle cell disease.
Our team is made up of highly trained physicians, nurse practitioners, social workers and administrators with special training and expertise in management of sickle cell disease. Our physicians are active researchers as well as clinical providers who continually bring you the most up-to-date therapies.
Vice Clinical Chair
Interim Medical Director
Sickle Cell Clinical Trials
UCLA Health physicians are continually researching new treatments to bring you the latest therapies. Patients in our program may have access to new treatment options through clinical trials, often before they’re widely available.