Taking a holistic approach to sickle cell disease management

Diet, exercise, and stress management are among the areas of focus

Dunstan Nicol-Wilson avatar

by Dunstan Nicol-Wilson |

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As a teenager with sickle cell disease, I thought that one of my biggest challenges in life would be disease management. I worried about what my life would look like, how many medications I would have to take each day, and whether I would be able to have a career I enjoyed.

My many absences from school and sickle cell crises during school trips didn’t bode well for thoughts about the future.

Now in my 30s, and after a good decade of trial and error to learn what my body can handle, I worry less about how sickle cell disease will affect me. That sounds remarkable, considering it’s a lifelong condition with crippling effects on my body.

But managing my disease is not only about pain medication. It’s also about incorporating a holistic approach into my sickle cell management plan.

This involves considering the disease’s physical, emotional, and social aspects. While medical interventions are essential for pain management, integrating holistic strategies has changed my life. Over time, I have seen the benefits of caring for myself in multiple areas. Following are some of the areas I have focused on, or wish to focus on in the future, as part of my holistic approach.

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During the latter half of this year, I hope to focus on maintaining a healthier diet. I was raised in an African household, where I was exposed to many nutrient-rich vegetables. Now that I’m older, I can choose the healthiest items from that diet and constantly evaluate what works for my body.


Regular physical activity has been fantastic for my health. The chronic pain I often experience in my knees eases as I stay active and build up my body’s strength. While each time I have a crisis, I lose most of the gains I’ve made, I also experience shorter pain episodes because of my improved body structure.


Stress is one of my biggest triggers, so I’m continuously trying to find new ways to manage it. In hindsight, many of the crises I’ve experienced over the last year have been triggered by stress and fatigue. These episodes have prompted me to think of ways to implement healthy coping strategies and supportive environments to help me handle stress.


Living with a chronic illness like sickle cell disease has had a significant emotional impact, which I wasn’t aware of in the past. But I’ve unraveled many of these issues with therapy and learned to address psychological and social challenges when they arise.


While much of what I’ve learned has been through trial and error, my willingness to try new things has helped with my overall health. In the process, I’ve become well-informed about how sickle cell disease affects me and the resources that are available for support.

A more holistic approach has given me the confidence to take control of my circumstances and focus on life apart from the disease.

Note: Sickle Cell Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sickle Cell Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell disease.


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