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Sickle Cell Trait

What is sickle cell trait?

A baby with sickle cell trait (SCT) carries one sickle cell gene, and one normal gene. A baby with SCT does not have sickle cell disease (SCD), which causes abnormal red blood cells. SCT almost never causes abnormal blood cells or too few 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. Genes are passed from parents to children. If a child inherits a sickle cell gene from each parent (2 genes), the child will have sickle cell disease. If a child inherits the sickle cell gene from just 1 parent, the child has SCT but not the disease. Having SCT usually does not cause symptoms or other problems that SCD can cause.

Africans, African Americans, and East Indians have a high risk of having SCT or SCD. 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 SCT and SCD. 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 SCD, both parents may want to be tested to see if just one or both of you have 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 sickle cell genes and have sickle cell disease.

It’s important for your child to know that he or she is a carrier of this gene. However, having SCT usually does not cause any problems and does not limit your child’s activities. Rarely, people with SCT may have some problems. Some of these conditions include:

  • Dehydration, which is losing too much water from the body
  • Low oxygen, caused by intense exercise, scuba diving, or high altitude mountain climbing
Written by Robert Brayden, MD, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.3 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-05-28
Last reviewed: 2015-05-28
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.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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