Sickle cell trait is a condition in which a person has one sickle cell gene and one normal gene that control the production of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells (RBCs) that transports oxygen throughout the body.
Sickle cell disease (also called sickle cell anemia) causes red blood cells to be abnormally shaped. This can result in painful episodes, serious infections, chronic anemia, and damage to body organs. Sickle cell disease is caused by a defect in the genes that affect hemoglobin.
Sickle cell disease is an inherited disorder, which means it is passed down by genes from a person's parents. If a child inherits a sickle cell gene from each parent, he or she will have sickle cell disease.
However, if a child inherits one sickle cell gene and one normal gene, he or she will have sickle cell trait. People with sickle cell trait don't have sickle cell disease and usually don't show signs of the disorder, but they can pass the gene for the disease to their children.
In rare cases, people with sickle cell trait might experience some of the symptoms of sickle cell disease, such as painful episodes. Factors that increase the risk of this happening include dehydration, extreme heat, low oxygen levels in the air, high altitudes, and increased pressure in the atmosphere (such as during scuba diving).
Most of the time, sickle cell trait requires no treatment. In fact, many people with sickle cell trait don't even know they have it. However, since they can pass the sickle cell gene to their kids, they may want to undergo genetic counseling if they are considering having children.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.
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