6 Sickle Cell Anemia Crisis Nursing Care Plans


Sickle cell disease (SCD), or sickle cell anemia (SCA) is a group of hereditary blood disorders characterized by an abnormality in the oxygen-carrying hemoglobin molecule in red blood cells. The most common forms of SCDs are: homozygous hemoglobin SS disease (sickle cell anemia), hemoglobin SC disease, and sickle [beta]-thalassemia.

Sickle cell anemia is a severe hemolytic anemia that results from the inheritance of the sickle hemoglobin gene. This gene causes the hemoglobin molecule to be defective. The sickle hemoglobin (HbS) acquires a crystal-like formation when exposed to low oxygen tension. The oxygen level in venous blood can be low enough to cause this change; consequently, the erythrocyte containing HbS loses its round, pliable, biconcave disk shape and becomes deformed, rigid, and sickle shaped. These long, rigid erythrocytes can adhere to the endothelium of small vessels; when they adhere to each other, blood flow to a region or an organ may be reduced. If ischemia or infarction results, the patient may have pain, swelling, and fever. The sickling process takes time; if the erythrocyte is again exposed to adequate amounts of oxygen before the membrane becomes too rigid, it can revert to a normal shape. For this reason, the “sickling crises” are intermittent. Cold can aggravate the sickling process, because vasoconstriction slows the blood flow. Oxygen delivery can also be impaired by an increased blood viscosity, with or without occlusion due to adhesion of sickled cells; in this situation, the effects are seen in larger vessels, such as arterioles.

Sickle cell anemia is most common in tropical Africans in in people of African descent; about 1 in 10 African-American carries the abnormal gene. If two parents who are both carriers of the sickle cell trait have an offspring, each child has a 25% chance of developing sickle cell anemia. However, sickle cell anemia also appears in other ethnic populations, including people of Mediterranean or East Indian Ancestry. Overall, 1 in every 400 to 600 black children has sickle cell anemia. The defective HbS-producing gene may have persisted because, in areas where malaria is endemic, the heterozygous sickle cell trait provides resistance to malaria and is actually beneficial.

Nursing Care Plans

Nursing care planning and goals for patients with sickle cell anemia include: providing relief for pain, decrease incidences of sickle cell crisis, enhanced sense of self-esteem and power, and absence of complications.


Here are six (6) nursing care plans (NCP) and nursing diagnosis (NDx) for patients with sickle cell anemia:

  1. Impaired Gas Exchange
  2. Ineffective Tissue Perfusion
  3. Risk for Deficient Fluid Volume
  4. Acute Pain
  5. Risk for Impaired Skin Integrity
  6. Deficient Knowledge
  7. Other Possible Nursing Care Plans

Ineffective Tissue Perfusion

Nursing Diagnosis

May be related to

  • Vaso-occlusive nature of sickling, inflammatory response
  • Arteriovenous (AV) shunts in both pulmonary and peripheral circulation
  • Myocardial damage from small infarcts, iron deposits, and fibrosis

Possibly evidenced by

  • Changes in vital signs: diminished peripheral pulses/capillary refill, general pallor
  • Decreased mentation, restlessness
  • Angina, palpitations
  • Tingling in extremities, intermittent claudication, bone pain
  • Transient visual disturbances
  • Ulcerations of lower extremities, delayed healing

Desired Outcomes

  • Demonstrate improved tissue perfusion as evidenced by stabilized vital signs, strong/palpable peripheral pulses, adequate urine output, absence of pain; usual mentation; normal capillary refill; skin warm/dry; nail beds and lips of natural pale, pink color; absence of paresthesias.
Nursing InterventionsRationale
Carefully monitor vital signs: Assess pulse points for rate, rhythm, and volume. Take note of hypotension, rapid, weak, and thready pulses, and increased or shallow respirations.Accumulation and sickling in peripheral vessels may lead to  complete or partial blockage of a vessel with diminished perfusion to surrounding tissues. Sudden massive splenic sequestration of dead cells can lead to shock.
Assess skin for pallor, cyanosis, coolness, diaphoresis, and delayed capillary refill.Changes reflect diminished circulation and/or hypoxia potentiating capillary occlusion.
Monitor and note changes in level of consciousness, reports of headache, dizziness, development of sensory and motor deficits (hemiparesis or paralysis), and seizure activity.Changes observed may reflect diminished perfusion to the central nervous system (CNS) due to ischemia or infarction. Stagnant cells must be mobilized immediately to prevent further ischemia/infarction.
Maintain adequate fluid intake and monitor urine output.Dehydration causes increase in sickling and occlusion of capillaries other than hypovolemia or decrease in blood volume. Decrease renal perfusion may indicate vascular occlusion.
Assess the lower extremities for skin texture, ulcerations, and/or edema.Sickling of blood can cause reduced peripheral circulation and often leads to dermal changes and delayed healing.
Note reports of change in character of pain, or development of bone pain, angina, tingling of extremities, eye pain and disturbances in vision.Changes may reflect increased sickling of cells and diminished circulation where organs are further involved. Watch out for these signs and symptoms as they may indicate myocardial infarction (MI), pulmonary infarction, or occlusion of vasculature of the eye.
Maintain room temperature and body warmth without overheating.This prevents vasoconstriction therefore aids in maintaining circulation and perfusion. Excessive increase in body temperature may cause diaphoresis which may add to insensible fluid losses and may put the patient in risk for dehydration.
Assess client for edema.Occlusion of blood vessels and circulatory stasis may lead to edema of extremities, potentiating risk of tissue ischemia and necrosis. Note: Assess for edema in the genitals of men including priapism.
Monitor laboratory studies: 
Decreased tissue perfusion may lead to gradual infarction of organ tissues, such as the brain, liver, spleen, kidney, skeletal muscle, and so forth, with consequent release of intracellular enzymes.
Electrolyte losses (especially sodium) are increased during crisis because of fever, diarrhea, vomiting, diaphoresis.
  • Administer hypo-osmolar solutions (0.45 normal saline) via an infusion pump.
Hydration lowers the HbS concentration within the red blood cells, which decreases the sickling tendency and blood viscosity, therefore helps in maintaining perfusion. Infusion pump may prevent circulatory overload. Lactated Ringer’s solution or D5W may cause RBC hemolysis and potentiate thrombus formation.
  • Administer hydroxyurea (Droxia or experimental antisickling agents (sodium cyanate) carefully. Observe for possible lethal side effects.
Hydroxyurea (Droxia) is a cytotoxic agent and dramatically decreases number of sickle-cell episodes and reduces the severity of complications such as fever and severe chest pain by increasing the level of fetal hemoglobin. Levels greater than 20% may prolong life.Antisickling agents (sodium cyanate) are aimed at prolonging erythrocyte survival and prevents sickling by affecting cell membrane changes.The use of anticoagulants, plasma expanders, nitrates, vasodilators, and alkylating agents has proved essentially unsuccessful in the management of the vaso-occlusive crisis.
Assist with surgical diathermy or photocoagulation.Diathermy is the direct coagulation of bleeding sites in the eye resulting in vascular stasis. This may prevent progression of proliferative changes if initiated early.
Assist with needle aspiration of blood from corpora cavernosa.Priapism can be caused by sickling of blood cells within the penis. It is characterized by sustained and painful erection and edema. Removal of occluded sickled cells can improve circulation, decreasing psychological trauma and risk of necrosis and infection.
Surgical intervention.Direct incision and ligation of the dorsal arteries of the penis and sapheno cavernous shunting may be necessary in severe cases of priapism to prevent tissue necrosis.

Recommended Resources

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See also

Other recommended site resources for this nursing care plan:

Other care plans for hematologic and lymphatic system disorders:

Matt Vera is a registered nurse with a bachelor of science in nursing since 2009 and is currently working as a full-time writer and editor for Nurseslabs. During his time as a student, he knows how frustrating it is to cram on difficult nursing topics. Finding help online is nearly impossible. His situation drove his passion for helping student nurses by creating content and lectures that are easy to digest. Knowing how valuable nurses are in delivering quality healthcare but limited in number, he wants to educate and inspire nursing students. As a nurse educator since 2010, his goal in Nurseslabs is to simplify the learning process, break down complicated topics, help motivate learners, and look for unique ways of assisting students in mastering core nursing concepts effectively.
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