What is Sickle Cell Trait?

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  • Written By: Pamela Pleasant
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 26 May 2019
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Sickle cell trait refers to a blood disorder in which one allele is not normal. An allele is a part of the hemoglobin beta gene that helps to produce beta-globin. It is a part of the protein hemoglobin, which is made up of both beta and alpha globin. These molecules help to deliver oxygen to the internal organs of the body. A sickle cell trait genetic defect can cause a host of problems and symptoms related to sickle cell anemia.

The sickle cell trait is similar to sickle cell anemia but it is less severe. With sickle cell anemia, the cells are so damaged that they actually sickle or change shape. a person with sickle cell trait has a mix of normal and abnormal cells. The hemoglobin in this case can be healthy enough to stop the cells from changing shape. People suffering with sickle cell trait will typically not develop sickle cell anemia.

Although this condition is not the same as sickle cell anemia, the symptoms can be similar. Lack of oxygen to the vital organs can cause anemia. When this occurs, there may be a lower amount of healthy red blood cells. A patient suffering from sickle cell trait can also have problems with high blood pressure.


Infections are another problem for people with sickle cell trait. Urinary tract and bladder infections are most commonly seen. These conditions are common and are not considered dangerous, so a physician may not think they are related to sickle cell trait.

The biggest indicator of sickle cell trait may be a shortness of breath while partaking in physical activities. Severe exhaustion is typically seen, along with difficult and labored breathing after strenuous exercise. Many people under the age of 19 may not present the typical symptoms of sickle cell trait until they experience extreme exhaustion. Younger athletes are now routinely tested to make sure they are not afflicted with this disease.

Cell trait treatments can help to lessen the severity of the disease. Intravenous fluids and antibiotics can ease any uncomfortable symptoms and pain medications can also be prescribed. Blood transfusions can also be given to patients who have an excessive amount of iron in the bloodstream. Too much iron can be toxic and do permanent damage to the liver, heart, and other internal organs.



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