How I treat the older adult with sickle cell disease

Swee Lay Thein and Jo Howard


With increasing survival, cumulative complications of sickle cell disease (SCD) which develop insidiously over time, are becoming more apparent and common in older patients, particularly those in their fifth decade and beyond. The older patient is also more likely to develop other age-related non-sickle conditions that interact and add to the disease morbidity. A common misconception is that any symptom in a SCD patient is attributable to their SCD and this may lead to delays in diagnosis and appropriate intervention. We recommend regular comprehensive reviews and monitoring for early signs of organ damage and a low threshold for the use of hydroxyurea and blood transfusions as preventative measures for end organ disease. Treatable co-morbidities and acute deterioration should be managed aggressively. While the primary goal in management of the older adult with SCD is improving anemia and minimizing organ damage, the time has come for us to be more proactive in considering curative therapies previously offered to the younger patient. Curative or experimental interventions should be discussed early, before complications render the patients ineligible for these treatments.

  • Submitted March 21, 2018.
  • Accepted June 21, 2018.