Researchers from Johns Hopkins recently reported the challenges of managing pain in some individuals with sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disease is most common in people with ancestry near the equator, such as African, Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean. This is the case no matter where one looks in the world. In the United States for example, sickle cell disease is most common in persons with African ancestry. Sickle cell disease comes from inheriting two copies of the gene that causes the disease; those who inherit one gene have “sickle cell trait.”
Why do many people with sickle cell disease experience body pains and other medical problems? This is because sickle cell disease causes poor blood flow to organs such as the bone, creating recurrent fits of crippling pain that may require high doses of powerful pain medications called opioids and sometimes urgent hospitalization. Not all persons with sickle cell disease have frequent episodes of pain. Sickle cell disease can damage other internal organs.
The researchers concluded that because it may be difficult occasionally to manage pain effectively without prescribing potentially unsafe amounts of opioids, there is a need to develop more nonopioid pain relievers that don’t increase risks of tolerance and overdose.