A new research reports that inhaling nitric oxide can safely and effectively reduce pain in adults with sickle cell disease, a genetic blood disorder characterised by red blood cells.
A study of 18 patients in Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit showed that the nine inhaling nitric oxide for four hours had better pain control than those receiving only the standard self-administered morphine.
"This study shows that you can breathe the gas and have less pain, which is the major reason sickle cell patients are admitted to the hospital," said C. Alvin Head, corresponding author of the study.
"A larger study will help define the optimal dose as well as timing and duration for the treatment. If findings continue to hold, he envisions sickle cell patients, much like asthmatics, having nitric oxide inhalers handy to forestall a full-blown pain crisis," he added.
While it's not certain how nitric oxide helps, Head suspects that one of nitric oxide's usual duties in the body is to help prevent clot formation.
"If you have pain relief without more narcotic then we must be attacking the problem," Head noted.
The study participants receiving nitric oxide use slightly less morphine than the control group and continued to experience pain relief two hours after the therapy ended. No patients showed signs of nitric oxide toxicity.
The author also believes that morphine will eventually be replaced by a mix of other drugs, such as nitric oxide, that address the pain's root cause.
The study is published in the American Journal of Hematology.