CONTEXT AND OBJECTIVES Sickle cell disease (SCD) is the most common genetic disorder among people of African descent, affecting approximately 3,500 newborns each year in Brazil. Hydroxyurea (HU) is the only effective drug to treating patients with SCD, thereby reducing morbidity and mortality. The objective was to analyze the effects of HU on SCD patients at our institution. DESIGN AND SETTING Retrospective study conducted at a sickle cell centre in Ribeirão Preto, São Paulo, Brazil. METHODS We analyzed clinical and laboratory data on 37 patients. The hematological parameters and clinical events that occurred during the year before and the first year of treatment with HU were analyzed. The mean dose of HU was 24.5 ± 5.5 mg/kg/day. RESULTS There were rises in three parameters: hemoglobin (8.3 g/dl to 9.0 g/dl, P = 0.0003), fetal hemoglobin (HbF) (2.6% to 19.8%, P < 0.0001) and mean cell volume MCV (89 to 105 fl, P = 0.001); and reductions in the numbers of leukocytes (10,050/µl to 5,700/µl, P < 0.0001), neutrophils (6,200/µl to 3,400/µl, P = 0.001), platelets (459,000/µl to 373,000/µl, P = 0.0002), painful crises (1.86 to 0.81, P = 0.0014), acute chest syndromes (0.35 to 0.08, P = 0.0045), infections (1.03 to 0.5, P = 0.047), hospitalizations (1.63 to 0.53, P = 0.0013) and transfusions (1.23 to 0.1, P = 0.0051). CONCLUSION The patients presented clinical and hematological improvements, with an increase in HbF and a reduction in the infection rate, which had not been addressed in most previous studies.