Sickle cell trait means that you have different hemoglobin in addition to the common type. Hemoglobin is the component of our red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to all the other parts of the body.
Most people have only hemoglobin A. In contrast, people with sickle cell trait have both hemoglobin A and hemoglobin S. Hemoglobin S is very similar to hemoglobin A except for one change in its structure. There are many other types of hemoglobin that are also different from the common type: C, D, and E.
Sickle cell trait rarely causes any health problem. There are only two exceptions that should be mentioned: first when individuals with the sickle cell trait are exposed to low oxygen pressure they may experience a painful episode, an example of this is flying in an unpressurized aircraft. The second exception is possible minute kidney problems. Other than these two exceptions individuals with sickle cell trait live a normal life.
When an individual has only hemoglobin S and no hemoglobin A, then he or she has sickle cell disease. When red blood cells containing hemoglobin S release their oxygen to the tissues, they change shape from round to sickle. This impairs their passage through the small blood vessels. Since red blood cells are very important in delivering oxygen to all the body, many organs can be affected along with their growth. Although it cannot be cured, effective treatment is available for persons with sickle cell disease.
The trait and the disease are inherited. Therefore they can be passed to your children. The most important thing is to make sure that you get tested. If you have sickle cell trait and your partner does not, your children each have a 50% chance of having the sickle cell trait, and a 50% chance of having normal hemoglobin. If you have sickle cell trait it is extremely important that your partner is tested. If you and your partner both have sickle cell trait there is a 25% chance of the child having normal hemoglobin, a 50% chance of the child having the sickle cell trait, and a 25% of having sickle cell disease. If both you and your partner have sickle cell trait, and want to know whether the unborn child has sickle cell disease testing can be performed as early as the tenth week of pregnancy. If the results are normal, the parents can be reassured. If the tests show the baby will be affected, the parents can be better prepared and they can make and informed decisions regarding the pregnancy.
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General information from our site is referenced from the following sources:
ASCAA. 2005. Sickle Cell Anemia and Sickle Cell Trait. 1st ed.(Brochure) Revised 2009
Serjeant, G. 1991. Sickle Cell Disease. 6th ed. New York: Oxford University Press.
NIH, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. 2002. The Management Of Sickle Cell Disease (Publication no. 02-2117). 4th ed. Bethesda: NIH
Beutler, MD., E. 1968. Hereditary Disorders of Erythrocyte Metabolism. New York: Grune & Stratton, Inc.
Franklin Shull, A. 1931. Heredity. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.
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