Here’s What Triggers a Sickle Cell Crisis for Me
A sickle cell crisis is one of the main symptoms sickle cell patients face. However, just because we all experience the same symptoms, or similar ones, it doesn’t mean the condition affects everyone equally.
As I meet more sickle cell patients, I’m further convinced that the condition affects each of us differently. One way this plays out is that different things can induce a sickle cell crisis for each of us.
My main triggers are cold weather, infection, exhaustion, and stress.
I absolutely love the summer, when I get to be the most social without having to fear falling ill. Sadly, summer is officially over here in the U.K., and I, for one, am extremely upset about it. We are now into autumn and approaching winter, which are the worst months for me.
Looking back over the years, most of my hospital admissions have happened during the colder autumn and winter months. Colder temperatures cause my joints to cease up and increase the likelihood of a crisis. I try to reduce the number of outdoor social outings during colder months, and when I do go out, I make every effort to ensure I am wrapped up warmly.
In college I once let a friend drink from my straw. Unbeknownst to me, she was coming down with a cold or the flu. The next day, I ended up in intensive care with a severe crisis. Many of my extreme hospital admissions are related to infections. It’s safe to say I don’t share drinks anymore!
I also avoid people who have a cold or the flu. What may be a minor cold for a healthy person can have a disastrous effect on me. Sickle cell patients have compromised immune systems, so it can be difficult to fight infections the way a healthy person can.
I should also add that it doesn’t have to be a severe infection to cause me problems. I once slammed my thumb in a car door, and either the cut or pain from the swelling triggered a crisis shortly afterward. On several occasions, pain from something unrelated has caused a crisis.
I must be very careful and vigilant, particularly if I am experiencing pain or have been exposed to someone with a contagious infection. I’m sure you can understand why I have been so particular about how I spend my social time during this pandemic!
“Exhaustion” may not be precise enough of a word for what I’m describing, because it might seem like it would require a strenuous task to completely wipe me out, which is far from the case.
For me, exhaustion can occur simply by doing too much too soon. For example, last week I had several social get-togethers scheduled with friends. I didn’t mind because I have been working from home and hadn’t been out much lately. After the fourth meetup that week, I found myself in crisis and had to go to the hospital.
I am constantly learning my body’s ever-changing limitations. I must remember not to assume that I can do all the seemingly normal things that healthy people can do.
I have found that stress induces crises. A few years ago, I was working in a demanding and high-pressured environment, which resulted in more frequent crises.
Stress isn’t only caused by work, it also can occur in one’s personal life. I try to avoid stress in all facets of life. Admittedly, not all stress can be avoided. But stress levels need to be balanced. To avoid a crisis, I am quick to exit any scenario that is causing me too much stress.
I began this column with a caveat about how sickle cell can affect each patient differently, because it is important to note that a trigger for me isn’t necessarily a trigger for other sickle cell patients. As I mentioned, cold weather is a big trigger for me, but for others, hot weather is a trigger. Let’s remember that each patient is an individual and should be addressed as such.
Do you know your main triggers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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