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Adding hydroxyurea to your treatment plan.

Living with sickle cell disease (SCD) can be hard. Complications can happen anywhere in your body, at any time, and without warning.

One of the most common complications is sudden and intense pain. Most of the pain in SCD is caused by the abnormal shape of red blood cells. The abnormal shape is due to a different form of hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying protein) in sickled red blood cells. Usually, with normal hemoglobin, red blood cells are round, soft and flexible. Due to the presences of abnormal hemoglobin, red blood cells in SCD are stiff and shaped like a sickle (a farm tool) or a quarter moon. These red blood cells don’t flow easily through your body. They can get stuck in the blood vessels and block oxygen from getting to your tissues. That can cause pain.

Hydroxyurea is a medication your doctor might prescribe to help prevent pain and other problems. Hydroxyurea makes your red blood cells bigger. It helps them stay rounder and more flexible, keeping hemoglobin from changing to a sickle shape. This helps hemoglobin carry more oxygen.  

Hydroxyurea also works on new red blood cells that are made every day. So, it only works if you take it every day. Staying on track with your hydroxyurea is important.

All medications, including hydroxyurea, can have side effects. But in general, they’re not very common or serious. It can take a while to figure out the best dose for you. You’ll need to have blood tests about once a month for a while. For most people, taking hydroxyurea is safe1 and lessens the chances of pain, blood transfusions, acute chest syndrome and hospital visits.2

This information is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Talk to your doctor or health care provider about your medical condition and prior to starting any new treatment. CVS Specialty assumes no liability whatsoever for the information provided or for any diagnosis or treatment made as a result, nor is it responsible for the reliability of the content.

McGann PT, Ware RE. Hydroxyurea therapy for sickle cell anemia. Expert Opin Drug Saf. 2015;14(11):1749-1758. doi:10.1517/14740338.2015.1088827.

2 Agrawal RK, Patel RK, Shah V, Nainiwal L, Trivedi B. Hydroxyurea in sickle cell disease: drug review. Indian J Hematol Blood Transfus. 2014;30(2):91-96. doi:10.1007/s12288-013-0261-4.