Sickle Cell Disease

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Duke’s comprehensive sickle cell center is committed to providing the best diagnostic tools, treatment options, and care for sickle cell disease. In addition to our extensive array of services and resources, we research new ways of treating the disease and its complications to provide you the best care.

We are one of the few centers in North Carolina to offer a new, FDA-approved gene therapy that can help alleviate severe pain and other serious complications associated with sickle cell disease. Our providers led clinical trials on this treatment and took part in specialized training to administer gene therapy. 

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Comprehensive Care to Treat Sickle Cell Disease

If you or a family member has sickle cell disease -- a hereditary blood disorder characterized by abnormal red blood cells that become sticky and get stuck in blood vessels -- you need a coordinated team to protect your health and prevent painful complications and health crises. Our highly-trained team of specialists ensure you receive the best care and the latest treatments and services.

Our Locations

Duke Health offers locations throughout the Triangle. Find one near you.


Treatment for sickle cell disease is ongoing and aimed at limiting the impact of pain and other complications on your ability to live life to the fullest. 


In addition to pain medications, you may be prescribed one or more of the following:

  • Hydroxyurea: This medication helps manage anemia and reduces the number of crises, thus limiting the number of blood transfusions you may need. 
  • Folic acid: The high rate of red blood cell production associated with sickle cell disease requires significant amounts of folic acid, so you may be prescribed a supplement. 
  • Voxelotor: This new medication helps treat your anemia, improves your body’s ability to carry oxygen, and reduces the need for blood transfusions.   
  • Crizanlizumab: This IV medication can help decrease the number of pain episodes you have. 

Fluid Therapy

Sickle cell disease can cause you to become dehydrated. In addition to drinking plenty of fluids, you may need IV fluids to help keep you hydrated during acute pain episodes.

Blood Transfusions

You may require blood transfusions if you become severely anemic. Transfusions may also be needed to combat complications common to sickle cell disease, such as stroke or acute chest syndrome, a lung-related complication that can lower the levels of oxygen in the blood.  Transfusions may also be needed to prepare you for major surgery such as hip replacement surgery or gallbladder removal. 

Gene Therapy

Duke was actively involved in clinical trials for gene therapy to treat sickle cell disease. It is similar to stem cell transplantation using donor cells (allogeneic) but does not require a bone marrow donor and is not associated with many of the potential complications of stem cell transplantation. Cells are removed from your blood, re-engineered in a special facility, and returned to your body through an infusion. The treatment changes parts of your DNA so your body can create healthy, normally shaped red blood cells. This allows your blood to flow freely, mitigating the pain and organ damage that often occur in people with sickle cell disease.


Hip or knee replacement surgery may be needed if your sickle cell disease causes the death of bone tissue due to a lack of blood flow. In children with sickle cell, surgery to remove the spleen or gallbladder may be needed.

Bone Marrow Transplants

Duke is a leader in this treatment for sickle cell disease in both children and adults. Though risky, a bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplantation, using blood marrow transplanted from a closely matched donor or stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood, may offer the chance for a cure.

Emerging Treatments

Duke is at the forefront of hopeful research into new agents that may help decrease sickling of red blood cells, prevent sickled red cells from sticking to blood vessel walls, and increase nitric oxide, a substance that opens blood vessels to improve blood flow. 

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Diagnostic and Genetic Tests

A simple blood test called hemoglobin electrophoresis can detect the presence of the abnormal hemoglobin that causes red blood cells to become shaped like sickles or crescents. The test uses an electric charge to differentiate between normal and abnormal types of hemoglobin. We also provide testing for the prenatal diagnosis of the disease, as well as testing for the ability of individuals to pass sickle cell and other blood disorders to their children.

Monitoring Tests

If you have sickle cell disease, you need regular tests to determine the severity of your anemia and whether you are producing red blood cells appropriately. Your doctor will routinely assess your liver, kidney, heart, and lung function and check for pulmonary hypertension. If you receive frequent transfusions, which raise iron levels, your iron will be checked regularly. Your doctor may also do routine tests to check the effects of medications, monitor pain medications, or follow recovery after recent time in the hospital. Children with sickle cell disease -- who have a higher-than-average risk for stroke -- receive transcranial Doppler imaging, a painless test that uses ultrasound to measure blood flow in the head. 

Consistently Ranked Among the Nation’s Best Hospitals

Duke University Hospital is proud of our team and the exceptional care they provide. They are why we are once again recognized as the best hospital in North Carolina, and nationally ranked in 11 adult and 10 pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report for 2024–2025.

Expert Care for Sickle Cell Disease

A Full Range of Patient Services
We offer social services, psychological support, and genetic counseling to provide for the complex needs of patients and their families in addition to addressing all your sickle cell disease related issues. 

Benefit from a Wealth of Experts
Our highly trained specialists -- including hematologists, obstetricians, neurologists, cardiologists, ophthalmologists, nephrologists, and orthopedic surgeons -- are skilled in working with sickle cell disease and have access to a full array of resources to provide you the best care.

Participate in Clinical Trials
We conduct studies supported by the National Institutes of Health and other organizations with the aim of discovering new treatments for sickle cell disease and its complications. You may be a candidate for an experimental therapy or research exploring the problems encountered by patients with sickle cell disease.

Access to Community Resources
We have cooperative ties with community sickle cell programs and also work closely with the NC Sickle Cell Syndrome Program. We can help you obtain support services such as transportation to doctor visits, and financial assistance, if needed.

A Wide Array of Educational Resources
Our support team provides up-to-date materials to help you learn more about your condition. We also sponsor workshops, training programs, lectures, and discussion groups. Our goal is to educate you about your condition and to encourage you to become active in your own care and make informed decisions about sickle cell screening and treatment.

This page was medically reviewed on 01/03/2022