Sickle Cell Disease and Sickle Cell Trait

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Sickle Cell is a group of related disorders that affect a person's red blood cells. It is caused by a change in the genes that make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin S is the most common but there may be other variations in hemoglobin that in combination with hemoglobin S may cause problems. It affects males and females equally. Sickle cell disease is inherited. That means it is passed from mothers and fathers to their children when both parents have the disease or trait. It is not contagious.

People with sickle cell disease have periods of well-being and stages of illness. The periods of illness are called sickle cell crises.

With sickle cell disease a person's red blood cells can become hard, sticky, and shaped like sickles. Sickle cell disease is a serious health problem. These problems can include:  

  • pneumonia
  • organ damage
  • painful erections in men
  • swelling of hands and feet
  • complications during pregnancy
  • chest pains and trouble breathing
  • blood in urine
  • fever
  • stroke
  • leg ulcers
  • infections
  • jaundice
  • gallstones
  • anemia
  • pain

There are different types of sickle cell disease. Sickle Cell Anemia (SS) is the most common type and usually causes the most problems.

Each child has a 1 in 4 (25%) chance of having sickle cell anemia if both parents carry the sickle cell trait.

diagram of 1 in 4 chance of child having sickle cell anemia if both parents carry the sickle cell trait Early treatment is essential. Some treatments are still being researched. Sickle cell disease can be controlled by:  

  • Medications
  • Blood transfusions
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Vitamin supplements

It can be cured by a bone marrow transplant. People in many ethnic groups can have Sickle cell disease. It is most common in persons of African descent, but it is also found in persons of Hispanic origin, Greeks, Italians, East Indians, Saudi Arabians, Asians, Syrians, Turks, Cypriots, Sicilians, Caucasians, and others.

All newborn babies in Texas are tested for sickle cell disease, despite race or ethnic background.

What is Sickle Cell Trait?

People with a sickle cell trait will not get sickle cell disease, but they carry a gene that could affect their children. Sickle cell trait is not contagious, it is inherited. It means that a person carries a normal gene and a sickle gene. Until recently it was believed that sickle cell trait rarely if ever affected health. However, new information suggests that individuals with sickle cell trait may have problems with extreme exertion. If you were tested years ago and told you did not have a sickle cell trait, you should be tested again. Some tests used years ago were not as accurate as tests used today.

This brochure does not take the place of an informed discussion between a patient and their health-care provider.

Be informed . . . learn your hemoglobin type

Last updated August 01, 2012