January 14, 2008 / 11:08 PM / 12 years ago

Sickle cell disease pain underestimated, study finds

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Daily pain is more common and severe among people with sickle cell disease than previously documented, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

The researchers asked 232 patients in Virginia to record their daily pain levels in diaries for up to six months and state, for example, whether they went to a hospital as a result.

More than half reported having pain on a majority of days and almost a third experienced it on a nearly daily basis, according to researchers led by Dr. Wally Smith of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.

People with the disease primarily dealt with it at home rather than going to a hospital, the researchers found.

“Pain in adults with sickle cell disease is the rule rather than the exception and is far more prevalent and severe than previous large-scale studies have portrayed,” the researchers wrote in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

“It is mostly managed at home; therefore, its prevalence is probably underestimated by health care providers, resulting in misclassification, distorted communication and under-treatment,” Smith and colleagues added.

Sickle cell disease is a group of inherited red blood cell disorders. The red blood cells become hard and pointed, and these cells can cause anemia, pain and other problems.

These sickle-shaped cells block blood flow to the limbs and organs and can cause pain, infections and organ damage, particularly in the lungs, kidneys, spleen and brain.

Sickle cell disease is more common among certain groups of people. It affects about one out of every 500 U.S. blacks. According to the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America, it most common in West and Central Africa where 1 to 2 percent of all babies are born with a form of the disease.

“I believe that this study could change the way people view the pain of the disease. It is a chronic pain syndrome,” Smith said in a statement.

“And the study results have implications for medical care, and research. We need more drugs to prevent the underlying processes that cause pain in this disease. And we need better treatments to reduce the chronic pain and suffering that these patients go through.”

Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Maggie Fox and Eric Walsh

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