Sickle Cell Patients and Hydroxyurea Treatment
What Is Hydroxyurea (Hydrea)?
Hydroxyurea is a prescription drug sold under the brand name Hydrea.
It's used to treat psoriasis, chronic myelogenous leukemia (a cancer of the white blood cells), ovarian cancer, melanoma (a form of skin cancer), and certain head and neck cancers.
The medicine also helps people with sickle cell anemia (an inherited blood disorder) by reducing the frequency of painful sickle cell crisis episodes and the need for blood transfusions.
Additionally, hydroxyurea is sometimes used to treat polycythemia vera (a disorder of the bone marrow) by reducing the red blood cell mass.
Hydroxyurea belongs to a class of drugs called antimetabolites. It works by slowing or stopping the growth of cancer cells in the body, and by helping to prevent the formation of abnormal red blood cells.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved hydroxyurea in 1967. It's marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb Company.
Hydroxyurea contains a black-box warning because it can cause a severe drop in the number of blood cells in your bone marrow. This can increase your risk of a serious infection or bleeding.
Tell your doctor right away if you experience any of the following symptoms while taking hydroxyurea:
- Fever, sore throat, cough, congestion, or other signs of infection
- Unusual bruising or bleeding
- Vomit that's bloody or looks like coffee grounds
- Bloody or black, tarry stools
Try to avoid contact with people who have infections or colds while taking this drug.
Don't receive any vaccinations while taking hydroxyurea without first talking to your doctor.
Hydroxyurea also contains a black-box warning because the medicine may increase your chance of developing other cancers.
Some people have reported skin cancer or secondary leukemia after taking hydroxyurea.
Call your healthcare provider right away if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Change in the appearance of a mole
- A new growth on the skin
- Any unusual skin changes
Before taking hydroxyurea, tell your doctor if you have, or have had:
Also, let your healthcare provider know if you've ever been treated with chemotherapy or radiation.
Tell your doctor you take hydroxyurea before having any type of surgery, including a dental procedure.
Hydroxyurea may interfere with certain medical tests. Tell all health professionals who treat you that you're taking this medicine.
Elderly people may be more sensitive to certain side effects of hydroxyurea. Talk to your doctor if this is a concern.
The safety and effectiveness of hydroxyurea in children haven't been confirmed. Don't give this medicine to a child unless a doctor tells you otherwise.
People who aren't taking hydroxyurea shouldn't come in contact with the medicine. Caregivers should wear disposable gloves when handling this drug.
Your doctor will want to perform important tests to monitor your body's response to hydroxyurea. Keep all appointments with your doctor and laboratory.
Pregnancy and Hydroxyurea
Hydroxyurea can harm an unborn baby. Don't become pregnant while taking this medicine.
Both men and women should use an effective form of birth control while taking hydroxyurea.
The drug may also affect a woman's ability to become pregnant and a man's ability to father a child. Talk to your doctor if this is a concern.
Since hydroxyurea can be absorbed through the skin and lungs, pregnant women, and those who may become pregnant, shouldn't handle the drug or breathe in the dust from the capsules.
Hydroxyurea is passed into breast milk. Don't breastfeed while taking this medicine.
Hydroxyurea Side Effects
Common Side Effects of Hydroxyurea
Tell your doctor if any of the following symptoms become severe or don't go away:
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Weight gain
- Sores in the mouth or throat
- Pale skin
- Mild dizziness
- Hair loss
- Darkening of the skin or nails
Serious Side Effects of Hydroxyurea
Tell your doctor right away if you experience any of the symptoms listed in the Hydroxyurea Warnings section above, or any of the following serious side effects:
- Fast heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Extreme tiredness or weakness
- Ongoing pain that begins in the stomach but may spread to the back
- Itching, pain, redness, swelling, blisters, or sores on the skin
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes
- Pain in the upper right part of the stomach
- Flu-like symptoms
- Numbness, burning, or tingling in the hands or feet
- Painful or difficult urination
- Severe headache
- Severe or persistent diarrhea, nausea, loss of appetite, or vomiting
- Signs of a severe allergic reaction (may include hives, rash, itching, chest tightness, or swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat)
Tell your doctor about all prescription, non-prescription, illegal, recreational, herbal, nutritional, or dietary drugs you're taking, especially:
Hydroxyurea and Other Interactions
Hydroxyurea may cause dizziness. Don't drive or perform activities that require alertness until you know how this medicine affects you.
Hydroxyurea and Alcohol
Alcohol may worsen certain side effects of hydroxyurea.
Talk to your doctor before drinking alcohol while taking this medicine.
Hydroxyurea comes as a capsule to take by mouth. Your dose will be based on your weight, medical condition, and response to treatment.
The medicine is usually taken once a day.
When hydroxyurea is used to treat certain types of cancer, it's sometimes taken once every three days.
Try to take the drug around the same time each day.
Don't crush, chew, or split the capsules. Swallow them whole.
Wear latex or rubber gloves when you handle hydroxyurea capsules to protect your skin.
Wash your hands right after you touch the bottle of medicine.
Follow the instructions on your prescription label carefully when taking this medicine. Don't take more or less hydroxyurea than is recommended.
Don't take hydroxyurea capsules if the expiration date has passed.
Symptoms of a hydroxyurea overdose may include:
- Pain, redness, swelling, or scaling on the hands and feet
- Sores in the mouth and throat
- Darkening of the skin
If you suspect an overdose, contact a poison control center or emergency room immediately.
You can get in touch with a poison control center at 800-222-1222.
Missed Dose of Hydroxyurea
If you miss a dose of hydroxyurea, take it as soon as you remember.
But skip the missed dose if it's almost time for your next scheduled dose.
Don't take extra medicine to make up for a missed dose.
Video: Increasing hydroxyurea dose helps young sickle cell patients avoid hospitalization
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