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Headaches and Sickle Cell

Headaches and migraines in sickle cell patients are common, and are usually attributed to reduced blood flow to the brain, reduced oxygen supply, or side effects from taking opiates or other drugs like Hydroxyurea. If you are having headaches, it is important to mention this to your doctor and have it completely assessed, because it might be a symptom of another underlying condition.

A headache could be the first symptom of a life-threatening complication and should not be taken lightly.

According to the SC Information Center, headaches could signal meningitis, subarachnoid hemorrhage, or osteomyelitis of the jaw or skull. The headache must be categorized as new, recurrent and unusual, and may also cause nausea, dizziness or fever.

There are many different types of headaches, and the physician should be able to figure out what type of headache you have based on the symptoms. Is it at the front of your head, the back? Is there fever? Does sleep make it better? Can you sleep through the headache?

Types of Headaches are:

  • Tension
  • Sinusitis
  • Hypertension
  • Vascular/Migraine
  • Cluster
  • Meningitis/Encephalitis
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage: bleeding in the brain
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Bone infraction
  • Brain abscess
  • Brain tumor

Dr. James Eckman has created a detailed tool for physicians to understand, diagnose  and treat sickle cell headaches. Read the FULL LIST in the Differential Diagnosis portion HERE. You might want to print this out for your doctor;)

It is important to find out what type of headache you are having, so that life-threatening conditions can be addressed immediately. If you are getting no relief, request a CT scan or MRI of your head for better visualization. Sometimes, there might be structural damage in your head causing the pain ie. a dead part of bone, a clot blocking off circulation, too much CSF, infected tissue etc.

Treatment: Treatment involves resolving the underlying condition and management of the pain. Most doctors will put you on Migraine type medication usually high in caffeine like Excedrin. Tylenol and some opiates are also prescribed. Another option is Elavil (Nortriptylline) which is used to treat migraines. If you have an infection, he might recommend antibiotics. If you have bone or tissue swelling, steroids like Dexamethasone (Decadron) might be used to reduce the swelling. For those with blood in the brain, abscess or brain tumors, surgery may be required to remove the damaged portion and restore normal blood flow to your brain.

Alternative Remedies: Walmart has a balm called HeadOn that is rubbed on the affected area to ease the headache. If you are having tension or stress headaches, managing stress and reducing areas of stress in your life are integral to getting rid of this issue. Engage in activities you enjoy, use relaxation techniques, bio-feedback, naps, healthy foods, exercise, yoga, water or even Marijuana to get your happy back, stay balanced and get back on track.

It is important to know that headaches might be a symptom for something else going on. Although this often is not the case, knowledge is power. If you are having headaches, please…PLEASE, say something about them to your doctor and make sure he rules out ALL other probable causes.

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About Author

Sickle Cell Warrior

Sickle Cell Warrior

Tosin is dedicated to perpetuating healthy and positive messages about sickle cell. Although sickle cell is a subject often taboo in the communities this condition is most prevalent, Tosin's message is that sickle cell is not something to be ashamed of and you can live a rich and fulfilling life with sickle cell. Sickle cell warriors are the most amazing people in the world, with a great fortitude for compassion, willpower and strength.

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  1. Norma K,
    Norma K, February 07, 17:24

    Thanks for this article I’m prone to headaches and used to have migraines this information helps a lot.

  2. Sickle Cell Warrior
    Sickle Cell Warrior Author February 10, 02:17

    @Norma, you are welcome. I hope you are feeling better.

  3. Tay
    Tay September 18, 20:19

    Thank you for this because i suffer from headaches real bad ones that last all day long .. One point I had a headache for 2 months straight nothing helped at all .. They done test and says everything fine

  4. felly
    felly May 08, 10:48

    Your daughter 9 scd has had headacre for three days now.

  5. shun
    shun August 29, 15:35

    I was just hospitalized on Sunday and I had been having severe migraine headaches. Altough I do have the sickle cell disease I had never experienced the migraine headaches. To make a long story short they gave me iv fluids, antibiotics, and pain meds. After a couple of days I am feeling much better.

  6. Sickle Cell Warrior
    Sickle Cell Warrior Author September 16, 11:30

    SHun, I’m glad you are doing much better. Hydration is key. When you are dehydrated, your brain constricts bloodflow and can trigger pain.

  7. get better
    get better February 04, 14:00

    headaches n body is drain always went to sleep

  8. Chiquita
    Chiquita February 14, 07:31

    My daughter is 5years old with sickle cell disease……her headache dont happen often….but when they do its on one spot of her head…..and shes become tired….no fever

  9. Tat
    Tat April 30, 09:55

    I’ve been having severe headaches for the past few weeks and they will not go away. What can I do? I have an appointment to see my doctor May 8th.

  10. funky
    funky May 06, 22:01

    Your son is 9years old and this is his second headache experience my hope is built on Christ

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