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Early Treatment Works With Sickle Cell Disease

Quick use of life-prolonging drug may benefit patients, study found

WEDNESDAY, April 21, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- People with sickle cell disease should begin taking the drug hydroxyurea sooner, possibly in higher doses, and they may need to take it in conjunction with drugs that treat general anemia.

Medical College of Georgia researchers presented those findings this week at the annual meeting of the National Sickle Cell Programon in Los Angeles.

The study included 236 adult sickle cell patients who had been taking hydroxyurea for six months to 14 years. Researchers compared demographic and biologic data of the patients who lived and the 33 who died.

"The patients who died were started on hydroxyurea at an older age, in their 30s, which means they already had significant damage to various organs, which makes the argument to start patients early stronger," Dr. Abdullah Kutlar, interim chief of the Section of Hematology/Oncology and director of the Sickle Cell Center, said in a prepared statement.

The same researchers also presented another study that looked at why sickle cell patients don't always take hydroxyurea as prescribed. The survey of 54 sickle cell patients found 80 percent said they sometimes forget and 67 percent cited side effects such as weight gain, decreased energy, hair loss and feeling sick.

Fear of long-term side effects, perceived lack of benefit, and the belief they were healthy enough to skip the drug were other reasons sickle cell patients gave for sometimes not taking hydroxyurea.

The drug has to be taken daily to be effective. The drug increases levels of fetal hemoglobin, which prevents red blood cells from forming into the sickle shape that causes pain and organ damage.

More information

The Human Genome Project has more about sickle cell disease.

SOURCE: Medical College of Georgia, news release, April 19, 2004
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