March 15 - Sickle Cell

SICKLE CELL TRAIT AND THE ATHLETE

Sickle Cell Trait is an inherited blood mutation that affects red blood cells that normally has no symptoms. People with the trait carry only one copy of the abnormal sickle gene. People with sickle cell trait are generally healthy.

During intense or extensive exertion, the shape of red blood cells can change from round to ‘sickle’ shaped. The sickle shaped cell can jam the blood vessels setting up a situation where blood can’t move freely to reach different parts of the body. As blood flow is blocked, parts of the body can’t get enough oxygen. This can pose a grave risk for athletes as muscles and organs start to die.  

Are athletes with Sickle Cell Trait allowed to compete in athletics?

There is no contraindication to participation in sport for the athlete with sickle cell trait.  Most doctors agree that most people with sickle cell trait will never have a problem. In rare circumstances, complications may result but lack of awareness and knowledge poses the biggest risk.  Education and precautions work best.