Hydroxyurea for Sickle Cell Disease

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Hydroxyurea for Sickle Cell Disease


Generic NameBrand Name
hydroxyurea Hydrea

Hydroxyurea is taken daily by mouth (orally).

How It Works

Hydroxyurea increases fetal hemoglobin (HbF) production and slightly raises the total hemoglobin concentration in the body. Fetal hemoglobin reduces the chance that red blood cells will sickle in a person who has sickle cell disease. So increased production of HbF can reduce the occurrence of sickling-related complications.

Why It Is Used

Hydroxyurea is used to reduce complications of sickle cell disease in adults who have a history of severe symptoms, including:

How Well It Works

Hydroxyurea can reduce the number of painful events and the recurrence of acute chest syndrome. It also can reduce hospital stays and the need for blood transfusion in adults who have sickle cell disease.1 This medicine doesn't work for everyone though.

Hydroxyurea is still an experimental treatment for young children with sickle cell disease. So far, research shows that hydroxyurea is as effective for children as for adults. More research is needed about long-term side effects.2

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Hives.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor right away if you have:

  • Fever, chills, or a cough.
  • Lower back or side pain.
  • Pain or difficulty when you urinate.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Diarrhea.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Drowsiness.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

While taking hydroxyurea, you will have regular frequent blood tests to check your bone marrow, liver, and kidneys.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Pregnancy advice for women and men

If you need to take this medicine, talk to your doctor about how you can prevent pregnancy.

For women: Do not use this medicine if you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant.

For men: Do not use this medicine if you and your partner are planning to get pregnant.


Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.



  1. Meremikwu MM (2009). Sickle cell disease, search date September 2007. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
  2. Strouse JJ, et al. (2008). Hydroxyurea for sickle cell disease: A systematic review for efficacy and toxicity in children. Pediatrics, 122(6): 1332–1342.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Martin Steinberg, MD - Hematology
Last Revised January 11, 2011

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.