Conference Coverage

Emotions, worse attention linked to pain-related health care use in SCD



The cognitive and emotional status of children with sickle cell disease (SCD) appears to have a significant effect on how they cope with pain and use health care resources, investigators have found.

Results of a retrospective study of 112 children and adolescents with SCD, the majority of whom had sickle cell anemia, showed that ED visits and hospitalizations were significantly lower among children with SCD who performed better on an attention task, as well as those who were better able to cope emotionally with having SCD and pain, reported Zaria Williams, a second-year medical student at Howard University, Washington, and colleagues.

“Since I started learning more about sickle cell disease, I’ve been very concerned about the great disease burden that this condition can place on pediatric patients, particularly those who suffer from pain,” Ms. Williams said in an oral abstract presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology.

Although many children and adolescents with SCD can have their pain effectively managed at home with opioids and other medications, some require ED visits and potentially hospitalizations for pain management.

“There is great variability in health care utilization among patients with sickle cell disease, with some having to come to the ED and be admit to the hospital more than others. In searching for reasons why this might be the case, we thought about cognitive function and emotional differences between children with sickle cell disease as potentially affecting disease management,” she said.

Anxiety and catastrophizing

Children with SCD are known to be susceptible to affective comorbidities such as anxiety and catastrophizing, and to conditions that have the potential for deleterious effects on executive function, attention, and working memory. To determine whether cognitive and emotional factors affect the disease self-management in children and adolescents with SCD, Ms. Williams and coinvestigators looked at a cohort of 112 SCD patients aged 7-16 years treated at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C.

The patients had participated in a previous pilot study of computerized working memory training. The authors reviewed charts for data on health care utilization, focusing on ED visits and hospitalization for pain 1 and 3 years after enrollment in the study.

They collected data on SCD genotype, disease-related variables, psychosocial information, and measures of cognition and emotion from the dataset. The information included socioeconomic status, parent education level, household income, and number of adults in the household.

Cognitive measures included the Weschler Intelligence Scale for Children full scale IQ, and the Cogstate computerized cognitive assessment system, which measures attention, executive function, and working memory.

Emotional measures were captured from the Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory Sickle Cell Disease module, including questions about worrying and emotions such as anger regarding SCD and pain.

The mean age of participants was 10.61 years. Of the 112 children/adolescents in the study, 65 (58%) were female, and 83 (74%) had sickle cell anemia (either HbSS or HbSβ0 thalassemia).

The participants had a median number of ED visits for pain of one within a year of enrollment, and a median of three within 3 years of enrollment,

The median number of hospital admissions for pain was zero and one, respectively.


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