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Sickle Cell Trait

Sickle cell trait is an inherited blood condition that affects the red blood cells. A child with sickle cell trait inherits this gene (piece of DNA) from one parent, just like hair or eye color. If one of the parents has sickle cell trait and the other does not, there is a 50% chance of having a child with sickle cell trait. If both parents have sickle cell trait, there is a 25% chance with each pregnancy of having a child with sickle cell disease. Approximately 10% of the African-American population has sickle cell trait but it is also present in people from Latin America, Asia, India and the Mediterranean. So in these modern times, it is possible for any person regardless of race or nationality to have sickle cell trait.

In the United States, about 2 million people have sickle cell trait. Sickle cell trait affects the red blood cells, which contain hemoglobin. Hemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs to the body. People with sickle cell trait have both hemoglobin A (normal) and hemoglobin S (abnormal) in their red blood cells. Fortunately, people with sickle cell trait have enough hemoglobin A to carry oxygen to the body and avoid medical problems from sickle cell disease. Sickle cell trait almost never causes any medical problems. However, under strenuous conditions, it may cause problems to some people. These conditions include dehydration, low oxygen and high altitudes (areas with low oxygen). But common sense precautions can help avoid all medical complications of sickle cell trait.

Important facts to know about sickle cell trait:

  • Sickle cell trait is not contagious; you cannot “catch” it like a cold.
  • A person with sickle cell trait cannot develop sickle cell disease.
  • People with sickle cell trait usually do not have health problems from the trait.
  • People with sickle cell trait do not experience painful crisis like people with sickle cell disease.
  • People with sickle cell trait have a normal life expectancy.

In a future post, I will discuss sickle cell trait and the athlete.