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Sickle Cell Trait

What is sickle cell trait?

A baby with sickle cell trait carries the gene for sickle cell disease but does not have the disease. Sickle cell disease is an inherited disease that causes abnormal red blood cells. The abnormal blood cells are fragile and don’t last as long as normal red blood cells. The body may not be able to make new red blood cells fast enough. This can cause a shortage of red blood cells (anemia).

Genes are inside each cell of your body. They contain the information that tells your body how to develop and work. Usually problems with genes are passed from parents to children. If a child inherits a sickle cell gene from each parent, the child will have sickle cell anemia. If a child inherits the sickle cell gene from just one parent, the child has sickle cell trait but not the disease. Having sickle cell trait usually does not cause symptoms or other problems that sickle cell disease can cause.

Africans, African Americans, and East Indians have a high risk of having sickle cell trait or sickle cell anemia. This is also true for people from the Mediterranean (Italian or Greek), Middle East, Caribbean, and Central or South America. In the US, 1 of every 12 African-American newborns carries the sickle cell trait.

How do I find out if my child has sickle cell trait?

Babies can have a blood test for sickle cell trait and sickle cell disease. The blood test is one of the newborn screening tests routinely done within a few days after birth.

Why is it important to know about sickle cell trait?

If your child has sickle cell trait, you and the baby’s father may want to be tested to see if just one or both of you has the sickle cell gene before you have more children. If both of you have a sickle cell gene, there is a 1 in 4 chance for each of your children that they will get 2 genes for sickle cell anemia and have sickle cell disease. The chances are lower if just one of you is a carrier.

It’s important for your child to know that he or she is a carrier of this gene. However, having sickle cell trait usually does not cause any problems and does not limit your child’s activities.

Written by Robert Brayden, MD, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-04-02
Last reviewed: 2013-02-07
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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