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Fighting Painful Misconceptions About Sickle Cell Disease in the ER

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source: Black Health Matters


When sickle cell patients arrive at emergency rooms, they often have great difficulty getting the treatment they need. Paula Tanabe, an associate professor at the Duke University School of Nursing, is making it her mission to change that.

Sickle cell disease, an incurable genetic blood disorder most common among people of African descent, affects 100,000 Americans. It causes normally disc-shaped red blood cells to take the form of pointed crescents or sickles. Common complications—which often bring death by the mid-40s—include strokes, anemia, severe infections, and damage to blood vessels, kidneys, eyes, and other organs. Treatment can also be complicated because many patients are unable to work and that can lead to a lack of health insurance.

Acute and unpredictable pain, severe enough to require large doses of narcotics, is a well-documented feature of sickle cell disease. But Tanabe has found that too often patients in sickle-cell agony are not handled properly by doctors and nurses in the emergency department because they erroneously think the patients may be running scams, seeking drugs.

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