Sickle cell trait (SCT) is not a disease, but a description of a type of hemoglobin gene. Hemoglobin carries oxygen in the bloodstream. SCT differs from sickle cell anemia in that the trait is present when one gene for sickle hemoglobin is inherited from one parent while a normal hemoglobin gene is inherited from the other. If a sickle cell gene is inherited from each parent, the child will then have sickle cell anemia. Sickle cell anemia is a serious disorder which typically causes severe medical problems early in childhood which continue on into adulthood. People with SCT rarely have any symptoms of the condition, however, they may develop problems under extreme physical stress or with low oxygen levels such as those find at higher altitudes.
People with ancestors from Africa, Mediterranean countries, India, South or Central America, and Saudi Arabia are at increased risk for having SCT. SCT occurs in about eight percent of the African-American population in the United States. SCT exercise-related deaths do occur in both athletics and in the military. Individuals with SCT participating in intense exercise are particularly vulnerable to the effects of heat and dehydration. The potential for a sickling collapse can be decreased if the athlete takes preventive measures. Early recognition of the signs and symptoms by the athlete, coaches, and medical staff along with prompt stoppage of all activity and immediate rendering of appropriate treatment will greatly reduce the potential for long-term consequences or death.
Below are resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the NCAA for parents/guardians, athletes, coaches, and medical personnel to provide helpful information about SCT and participation in interscholastic athletics:
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