Sickle Cell anemia is a group of inherited red blood cell disorders. Normal red blood cells are round like doughnuts, and move through small blood tubes in the body to deliver oxygen. Sickle red blood cells become hard, sticky and crescent shaped. When these cells go through the capillaries, they clog the flow and break apart. This can cause pain, damage, a low blood count or anemia.
There is a substance in the red cell called hemoglobin that carries oxygen inside the cell. One little change in this substance causes the hemoglobin to form long rods in the red cell when it gives away oxygen. These rigid rods change the red cell into a sickle shape.
You inherit the abnormal hemoglobin from both parents who may be carriers with the sickle cell trait or have sickle cell disease. You are born with the sickle cell hemoglobin and it is present for life. Sickle cell is in many nationalities including African Americans, Arabs, Greeks, Italians, Latin Americans and Native Americans. All races should be screened for this hemoglobin at birth.
A simple blood test called the hemoglobin electrophoresis can be done by your doctor or local sickle cell foundation. This test will tell if you are a carrier of the sickle cell trait or if you have the disease. Most states now perform the sickle cell test when babies are born. The simple blood test will detect sickle cell disease or sickle cell trait.
Sickle cell trait occurs when a person carries one sickle hemoglobin producing gene inherited from their parents and one normal hemoglobin gene. Normal hemoglobin is called type A. Sickle hemoglobin is called type S. Sickle cell trait is diagnosed by the presence of hemoglobin AS on the hemoglobin electrophoresis. This will not cause sickle cell disease. Sickle cell trait does not adversely affect an individual's life expectancy.