Sickle Cell Trait

Sickle Cell Trait
Kori Beck and Marissa Garver, ATC
Hughston Athletic Training Fellowship

What is Sickle Cell?

Sickle cell is a genetic blood disorder that affects red blood cells. People with sickle cell have red blood cells that are fragile and abnormally shaped. This causes an insufficient transportation of oxygen to the body. The abnormal shape may also cause the sickle cells to bind together blocking small blood vessels leading to vascular occlusions, or infarcts, in organs such as the heart, lungs, spleen, kidney, and the central nervous system. Most people with the sickle cell trait never have symptoms, however, exercising in extremely high temperatures, humidity, or altitudes may predispose those with the trait to sudden death.

Who Does Sickle Cell Affect?

Eight to ten percent of African Americans carry the sickle cell trait. Anderson (2000) states that those ages 23-30 have a 1.3 in 1000 chance of dying from sudden death during exertional exercise, particularly during extreme conditions of heat, humidity, and increased altitude.

Signs and Symptoms of Sickle Cell

Although most people show no signs or symptoms of the sickle cell trait, others may show some signs and symptoms which include: swollen, painful, and inflamed hands and feet, irregular heart beat, severe fatigue due to the lack of oxygen circulating throughout the body, headache, pallor, muscle weakness, or severe pain due to oxygen depravation. Other signs and symptoms may involve jaundice, which is yellowing of the skin and eyes due to liver damage or dysfunction, or frequent infections due to damage of the spleen which fights infections. Some people with sickle cell also may suffer from vision problems because of the blockages in the small arteries surrounding the retina.


There is not a known cure for the sickle cell trait; however, prevention and management are the best treatments. Screening for sickle cell should be done at an early age, or when signs and symptoms occur. When symptoms or complications are present treatment may include: antibiotics, pain management techniques, intravenous fluids, blood transfusion, or surgery. Those who know they have the sickle cell trait should be especially careful in high temperatures, high humidity, or high altitudes.


Anderson, M. K., Hall, S. J., & Martin, M. (2000). Sport Injury Management (2nd Ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Kori Beck was a participant in the Hughston Athletic Training Fellowship Program, Columbus, Georgia, from 2006-2007. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Athletic Training from The University of Northern Iowa. She completed a research project entitled “Static Stretching of the Hamstring and Its Effects on Vertical Jump Performance.” This research was accepted and presented at the National Athletic Trainers Association Annual Convention, June 14-18, 2006. Kori is a member of the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) and currently serves at the graduate athletic trainer at Kendrick High School.


Marissa Garver, ATC is a second year graduate student and recipient of the Hughston Athletic Training Fellowship. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Athletic Training from North Georgia College and State University in Dahlonega, Georgia. Marissa is a founding member of North Georgia’s Athletic Training Education Honor Society, Iota Tau Alpha, and North Georgia’s Athletic Trainers’ Student Organization, where she served as president. Marissa is a member of the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA), the Georgia Athletic Trainers Association (GATA), and the Southeast Athletic Trainers Association (SEATA).

She is the Head Athletic Trainer at Brookstone School, Columbus, Georgia.