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Pain episodes occur when sickle cells clog small blood vessels depriving the body of adequate blood and oxygen. Pain frequently occurs in the arms, legs, chest and abdomen. People with sickle cell disease are not affected equally by pain. Only 20 percent will have frequent pain episodes. Mild to moderate pain episodes can often be managed at home. Severe pain may require hospitalization and treatment with narcotic pain relievers. Drug dependency or "addiction" is rare when pain medications are used as prescribed.
A common complication of sickle cell disease is abnormal function of the spleen. This results in an increased risk of infection in the blood, bones, lungs and urinary tract.