Complications of SCD: Pain

At a glance

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a group of inherited blood disorders associated with severe pain and complications that can affect the entire body. This page provides information on SCD and pain.

A person with lower back pain.


Pain is the most common complication of SCD, and the top reason that people with SCD go to the emergency department or hospital. Sickled cells traveling through small blood vessels can get stuck and block blood flow throughout the body, causing pain. A pain crisis (vaso-occlusive episode or VOE) can start suddenly, be mild to severe, and can last for any length of time. Pain can occur in any part of the body, but commonly occurs in the hands, feet, chest, and back.

Pain that comes suddenly and lasts for a short time is referred to as acute pain. Chronic pain is daily, on-going pain lasting more than 6 months. People with SCD can experience acute pain, chronic pain, and/or both. Opioids are a class of drugs sometimes used to reduce pain. People with SCD should talk with their SCD provider to help make a pain management plan.