What is the sickle cell trait?
The sickle cell trait is present when a child inherits the sickle cell mutation from only one parent. The child does not get sickle cell disease, just the trait. This trait can then be passed on to future generations. When both parents have the sickle cell trait, there is a 1 in 2 chance that it will be passed on to their children. For those with the sickle cell trait, there is no specific treatment required. In most cases there are no symptoms; therefore, many don’t even know they have this trait.
Sickle cell trait is not – and can never become – sickle cell disease. If sickle cell trait is passed on to the child from both biological parents, then sickle cell disease will occur. About 100,000 people in the United States have sickle cell disease, most are of African descent.
There is no widely available cure for sickle cell disease. The only approved cure for sickle cell disease is a stem cell or bone marrow transplant. However, there are some treatments available to lessen the severity of the symptoms. Some patients may require monthly blood transfusions to replace their sickle red blood cells with healthy red blood cells. Donated blood is the only source of that treatment. For those patients, a compatible blood match is essential and is most commonly found from a donor of a same race or similar ethnicity. The Red Cross is testing for the presence of the sickle cell trait in blood donations from African Americans to help identify compatible blood types more quickly to help patients with sickle cell disease. Individuals with sickle cell disease can require frequent blood transfusions throughout their lifetime to treat complications of their disease. Unfortunately, this can make finding compatible blood types more difficult when patients develop an immune response against blood from donors that is not closely matched to the blood of the recipient.