New research published yesterday in the medical journal Pediatrics shows the standard treatment of intravenous (IV) magnesium does not reduce hospital length of stay or lower pain scores for children with acute episodes of sickle cell disease.

“It was previously thought that IV magnesium could be an innovative solution to rehydrate blood cells and treat the clotting,” says Dr. Ran Goldman, who led the study. Dr. Goldman is a senior associate clinician scientist at the Child & Family Research Institute at BC Children’s Hospital, and professor and co-head of the Division of Clinical Pharmacology, Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Pediatrics at the University of British Columbia.

“We were surprised by our findings, which show that while IV magnesium is safe, it is not the solution we’re looking for and there’s a need to continue searching for a remedy for acute episodes of pain in these children,” says Dr. Goldman.

Sickle cell disease is a genetic disorder marked by abnormal, crescent-shaped red blood cells. Children with the disease are susceptible to life-threatening episodes of blood clotting. These episodes are very painful, can block blood supply to limbs or organs, and can cause a stroke. Other chronic complications include pneumonia and recurrent infections.

The researchers also found that IV magnesium is very safe to administer to children, even at high doses, which is important for treating other medical emergencies such as asthma.

“We’re not saying a complete good-bye to IV magnesium as a treatment for sickle cell,” says Dr. Goldman. “We need to do further research to find out whether children with a specific sub-type of sickle cell disease could benefit from IV magnesium, or whether providing children with oral magnesium may have a role in preventing acute episodes of the disease.”

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