Visual of sickle shaped red blood cells.

Visual of sickle shaped red blood cells.

What is Sickle Disease?  Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder that affects the red blood cells. People with sickle cell disease have red blood cells that contain mostly hemoglobin "S", an abnormal type of hemoglobin. These cells become sickle (crescent) shaped, stiff and sticky and have difficulty passing through small blood vessels. When sickle shaped cells block small blood vessels, less blood can reach that part of the body. Tissue that does not receive a normal blood flow eventually becomes damaged. This is what may cause the complications of sickle cell disease. Normally, red blood cells live for about 120 days before new ones replace them. Red blood cells containing mostly hemoglobin "S" do not live as long as normal red blood cells. The early breakdown of the red cells decreases the amount of hemoglobin in the blood to carry oxygen, this causing anemia of which the disease is also known as, Sickle Cell Anemia. Sickle Cell Disease affects multiple nationalities, but is most prevalent in African-Americans. Sickle Cell Disease symptoms can occur in any part of the body. People with the disease are extremely vulnerable to infections. They may also suffer from jaundice deterioration of joints, kidney infections, recurrent severe pain episodes, strokes, blindness and a shortened life expectancy. The average life expectancy, in America, of someone living with sickle cell disease is in the mid 40 years of age range. There is currently no cure for Sickle Cell Disease. 


How does one inherit sickle cell disease? Sickle cell disease is inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern. This means a child will not inherit the disease unless both parents pass down a defective copy of the gene. People who inherit one good copy of the gene and one mutated copy are carriers. They are clinically normal, but can still pass the defective gene to their children. 



 What is sickle cell trait? About 1 out of every 12 African-Americans has sickle cell trait and about 1 out of every 100 Latinos has sickle cell trait. Sickle cell trait also affects many people whose ancestors came from Africa, Latin America, Asia, India, and the Mediterranean region. If you have sickle cell trait, you have inherited the gene for sickle cell disease. Sickle cell trait does not turn into sickle cell disease. If someone has sickle cell trait and his partner has sickle cell trait they may produce a child with sickle cell disease. There are about 2.5 million people in America with sickle cell trait. Those who have Sickle cell trait may also experience health problem when they are under certain stressful conditions. Some of the conditions that may lead to those with sickle cell trait experiencing health problems is dehydration, low oxygen, and high altitudes. 

How does Sickle cell affect athletes?  People with sickle cell trait are more likely than those without sickle cell trait to experience heat stroke and muscle breakdown when doing intense exercises, such as competitive sports under unfavorable conditions or temperatures. In low-oxygen conditions, those with sickle cell trait become more prone to health complications. Researchers do not know exactly what causes mortality under these conditions, although they have some ideas. The low-oxygen conditions seem to cause skeletal muscle to break down. This might result in the release of substances such as potassium, which can lead to heart failure, and the protein myoglobin, which can cause kidney failure. Football makes sickle-cell trait particularly risky for a number of reasons: practice tends to start during some of the hottest months of the year and players often practice in pads, which can add to the heat stress. The following conditions could be harmful for people with sickle cell trait:


  • Increased pressure in the atmosphere 
  • Low oxygen levels in the air 
  • Dehydration 
  • High altitudes.