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Willis-Knighton Health System

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Sickle Cell Trait

What Is Sickle Cell Trait?

If someone inherits one sickle cell gene, they have sickle cell trait. They usually do not develop symptoms of sickle cell disease.

If someone inherits two sickle cell genes, they have sickle cell disease. People with sickle cell disease need lifelong medical care.

Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder in which red blood cells are not round, but curved. These curved red blood cells block small blood vessels. Blood can't move as it should, which can lead to pain and organ damage.

Can Someone With Sickle Cell Trait Have a Child With Sickle Cell Disease?

Someone with sickle cell has one sickle cell disease gene and one normal gene. If that person has a child, the child has a 50% chance of inheriting the sickle cell gene.

If both parents have sickle cell trait, their child can inherit:

  • the sickle cell gene from both parents and have sickle cell disease
  • the sickle cell trait from one parent and a normal gene from the other and have sickle cell trait
  • the normal gene from both parents and not have sickle cell trait or sickle cell disease

Families with sickle cell trait should talk to a genetic counselor to understand their risk of sickle cell disease and other blood disorders.

How Is Sickle Cell Trait Diagnosed?

Sickle cell trait doesn't usually cause symptoms. Many people have the gene and don't know it. Doctors can do a simple blood test (usually from a finger prick) to see if someone has sickle cell trait. Pregnant women and newborn babies usually get a blood test for the sickle cell gene during routine care.

How Is Sickle Cell Trait Treated?

Most people with sickle cell trait never develop symptoms and do not need any treatment. Very rarely, someone with sickle cell trait can have symptoms, especially if they:

  • get dehydrated
  • exercise very strenuously
  • go somewhere with a very high altitude

Anyone who does have symptoms needs to see a doctor who specializes in blood disorders (a hematologist).

People with sickle cell trait should tell all their doctors that they have it, just in case they develop symptoms.

Reviewed by: Corinna L. Schultz, MD
Date reviewed: August 2019