People who inherit one sickle cell gene and one normal gene have what’s called sickle cell trait. This means the person won’t have the disease, but will be a trait “carrier” and can pass it on to his or her children.
Who is most affected by sickle cell trait?
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Sickle cell trait can affect people from all walks of life, including those whose ancestors come from Africa, South or Central America, the Caribbean, Mediterranean countries, India, and Saudi Arabia.
Usually, people with sickle cell trait live a normal life without any of the symptoms of sickle cell disease, but it’s possible for them to have complications under extreme conditions.
What are the complications of sickle cell trait?
Most people with sickle cell trait do not have any symptoms of sickle cell trait, although—in rare cases—people with sickle cell trait might experience complications such as death of spleen tissue due to lack of blood flow, called splenic infarction. The symptoms of splenic infarction vary but symptoms such as abdominal pain and/or fever, nausea and vomiting are most common and you should see your physician if you experience these symptoms. Another complication seen in people with sickle cell trait is reduced ability to concentrate urine called hyposthenuria which may lead to dehydration. Also, although rare, people with sickle cell trait may have a greater risk of sudden collapse or death due to intense exercise. In rare cases, the following conditions could be harmful for people with sickle cell trait by making them more likely to experience the complications above:
- Increased pressure in the atmosphere which can be experienced, for example, while scuba diving.
- Low oxygen levels in the air which can be experienced, for example, when mountain climbing, exercising extremely hard in military boot camp, or training for an athletic competition.
- High altitudes experienced when flying, mountain climbing, or visiting a city at a high altitude.
How can I find out if I have sickle cell trait?