Sickle Cell Disease
Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle Cell Disease Sickle Cell Trait

What is sickle cell trait?

Sickle cell trait occurs when a person carries one copy of the sickle cell gene passed down from one parent along with a normal hemoglobin gene from the other parent.

In most cases, people living with sickle cell trait experience no symptoms and lead normal lives. Because some people with sickle cell trait have complications from the condition, scientists are working to better understand when and how sickle cell trait might affect a person’s health. Over 2 million people in the United States live with sickle cell trait.

Sickle cell trait is different from sickle cell disease.

The difference between sickle cell trait and sickle cell disease

People with sickle cell trait have only one copy of the altered hemoglobin gene and usually do not have any symptoms related to the disease. In contrast, people with sickle cell disease have two copies of the altered hemoglobin gene.

With two copies of the altered gene, red blood cells break down quickly and lead to long-lasting, severe anemia, or low hemoglobin levels. Red blood cells lose their normal shape and form a “C” or sickle shape that gives the disease its name.

Without treatment, a person with sickle cell disease can develop frequent bouts of pain and may have life-threatening complications, including damage to organs such as brain, bones, lungs, kidneys, liver, and heart.

The disease is most common in people of African, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Central and South American, and Asian Indian origin or descent.

What it means if someone has sickle cell trait

Most people who have sickle cell trait will never experience any medical complications. However, in rare instances, some people who have sickle cell trait can experience medical complications when performing intense physical activity. For these people, the risk of experiencing symptoms is higher when they are in situations where their body needs more oxygen than usual, for example, when they engage in high intensity physical activity or are active at higher elevations such as mountains or unpressurized airplanes. Persons with sickle cell trait occasionally experience damage to their kidneys from sickling in sections of the kidney.

People with sickle cell trait should be aware of their condition because they can pass the gene onto their children. If both parents have sickle cell trait, there is a greater chance that one or more of their children will be born with sickle cell disease.

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