Friday, April 10, 2015

Sickle Cell Trait

Sickle cell trait is something that is being talked about a lot in the sports world today. Many people don’t know exactly what it is or how to manage it.  Sickle cell trait is the inheritance of one gene for sickle hemoglobin and one for normal hemoglobin.1 Sickle cell trait is not a disease. During intense or extensive exertion, the sickle hemoglobin can change the shape of red cells from round to quarter-moon, or sickle.1 When this happens the blood cells block the blood vessels and don’t allow blood and oxygen to be passed to the muscle tissue. This can lead to a collapse and even death.

There are several things that can be done to protect athletes from this condition. The first is screening. Screening athletes to find out who has the trait and who does not. It is common practice for infants to be tested when they are born but a simple blood test can be done on adults to see if they have the sickle cell trait.2 Proper training and conditioning are also necessary. A year-round conditioning program is highly suggested.2 Athletes can’t be conditioned out of sickle cell, but staying in good shape can lower the risk of collapse. Longer break periods and breaks more often can also help. Intense and explosive exercises should be kept to less than 2-3 minutes.1 Treatment is something else that is very important. When signs are present the athlete must stop immediately and begin to hydrate. Oxygen may be administered also. These are the two most important factors. Vital signs should be monitored continuously. If someone collapses 911 should be called immediately.

Education is probably the most important thing when dealing with sickle cell trait. Athletes, parents, coaches, athletic trainers, and administration should all be educated. Some of the signs are severe muscle cramping (especially in the calves), muscle fatigue, muscle weakness, muscle pain, muscle swelling, or difficulty breathing.2 Sickle cell is prominent in African Americans and should be taken into consideration. Sickle cell trait is very important and should be taken seriously. Hopefully this blog cleared up some things people didn’t know.

1Consensus Statement: Sickle Cell Trait and the Athlete. (n.d.). NATA, 1-5.

2The Student-Athlete with the Sickle Cell Trait [Motion picture]. (2011). YouTube.


  1. Sickle Cell Trait is something that all coaches and athletes must be aware of. Things can change in an instant and someone's life could be on the line. Its best to have a good emergency plan in place and to know your athletes and how they typically practice and play. This could help prevent a major problem if noticed quickly enough.

  2. When it comes to screening athletes, only Division 1 and Division 2 schools are required by the NCAA to have an athlete be tested, provide proof of testing when they were an infant, or sign a waiver opting out of the testing and not having the school be liable. Do you believe the same requirements should be given to Division 3 and Junior Colleges? Do you think it would be a stretch to make high schools require the testing as well?