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Sickle Cell and Your Sexual Health

Hey SHAKE Family!

We're celebrating World Sickle Cell Day. Sickle Cell is a condition that is very important to us at SHAKE Africa and I'm sure its important to many of you too.

Sickle Cell refers to a group of inherited health conditions that affect red blood cells. People with sickle cell disease produce unusually shaped red blood cells. These red blood cells do not live as long as healthy blood cells and can block blood vessels.

Nowadays a lot of us know if we're AA, AS, SS, SC.. which is great because that means progress is being made but there's still a lot of work to be done.

One of the things that often isn't touched upon is how sickle cell affects your sexual health so we're here to shed a little light on it..

How does sickle cell disease affect sexual health?

Pain during Sex

For women who experience acute pain crises or chronic pain, they may be more likely to experience dyspareunia (pain during sex) particularly if opioids are used to manage sickle cell pain. Opioids can affect hormone levels which may also contribute to painful intercourse.

Sickle Cell and Contraception

Women with sickle cell disease, can use regular contraceptive methods, however, some doctors may advise against the combined pill due to a slightly increased risk of blood clots and stroke. Furthermore, some women with sickle cell have reported increased frequency of pain crises with the combined pill.

If you're having any problems during sexual intercourse or trying to find the right contraception, speak to your health provider who should be able to help you.

Sickle Cell and Fertility

Many women with sickle cell go on to have healthy and successful pregnancies. Sickle cell can sometimes make it more difficult to get pregnant although more research needs to be done around this. Some of the complications arise from the medications used to treat sickle cell. It is key to speak to your doctor about fertility and family planning early

Blood transfusions

Transfusions are a common treatment in sickle cell. Sometimes blood transfusions can cause high iron levels. Too much iron in your body can make it harder for an individual to get pregnant because it may affect the normal functioning of the ovaries. There are various treatments available to prevent levels of iron getting too high


This is a medication that has been used to reduce the frequency of painful crises. There is some research to indicate that hydroxyurea may damage the ovaries (part of your body that makes hormones and releases an egg each month)

Anti-inflammatory medications

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a type of pain medicine that are usually available over the counter without a prescription. Common NSAIDs include ibuprofen and naoproxen. Some research shows that taking NSAIDs regularly makes it less likely that a woman will ovulate, or release an egg, every month.

Bone marrow transplants

Bone Marrow Transplants have been instrumental in improving the quality of life of some sickle cell patients and serve as a potential cure. In order to prepare for a transplant, patients receive radiation or chemotherapy to kill the bone marrow stem cells that make sickle-shaped red blood cells allowing new, healthy, transplanted bone marrow cells to make normal, round, healthy red blood cells.

The radiation and chemotherapy can however cause damage to ovaries and eggs.

There are various mechanisms to try and reduce this risk. Alternatively, some women may opt to freeze their eggs, or their fertilized embryos, or tissue from their ovaries to try to become pregnant after a bone marrow transplant.

Speak to your healthcare provider to explore all of your options.

Key Take Home Message

SPEAK TO YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER! They will be able to explore all of your options with you and talk through any concerns you may have. Many people with sickle cell have fulfilling and satisfying sex lives and many have healthy successful pregnancies.

Thanks for reading guys. Keep your eyes peeled for our upcoming blog on sickle cell and pregnancy!

Sending so much SHAKE Love!


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