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Sickle Cell Trait (SCT) is not a disease. SCT is the inheritance of one gene for sickle hemoglobin and one for normal hemoglobin. SCT will not turn into the disease. SCT is a life-long condition that will not change over time.  

  • During intense exercise, red blood cells containing the sickle hemoglobin can change shape from round to quarter-moon, or “sickle.” 

  • Sickled red cells may accumulate in the bloodstream during intense exercise, blocking normal blood flow to the tissues and muscles.  

  • During intense exercise, athletes with sickle cell trait have experienced significant physical distress, collapsed, and even died.  

  • Heat, dehydration, altitude, and asthma can increase the risk for and worsen complications associated with sickle cell trait, even when exercise is not intense.  

  • Athletes with SCT should not be excluded from participation, as precautions can be implemented.  




People at high risk for having SCT are those whose ancestors come from Africa, South or Central America, India, Saudi Arabia, and the Caribbean and Mediterranean countries.


  • SCT occurs in about 8 percent of the U.S. African American population and between one in 2,000 to one in 10,000 in the Caucasian population.  

  • Most U.S. states test at birth, but most athletes with SCT don’t know they have it.  

  • The NCAA recommends that athletics departments confirm all student-athletes SCT status.  

  • Knowledge of SCT status can be a gateway to education and simple precautions that may prevent collapse among athletes with SCT, allowing you to thrive in your sport.  



  • Know your sickle cell trait status.  

  • Engage in a slow and gradual preseason conditioning regimen.  

  • Build up your intensity slowly while training.  

  • Set your own pace. Use adequate rest and recovery between repetitions, especially during “gassers” and intense station or “mat” drills.  

  • Avoid pushing with all-out exertion over two to three minutes without a rest interval or a breather.  

  • If you experience symptoms such as muscle pain, abnormal weakness, undue fatigue, or breathlessness, stop the activity immediately and notify your athletic trainer and/or coach.  

  • Stay well hydrated at all times, especially in very hot and humid conditions.  

  • Avoid using high-caffeine energy drinks, supplements, or other stimulants, as they may contribute to dehydration.  

  • Maintain proper asthma management.  

  • Refrain from extreme exercise during acute illness, if feeling ill, or while experiencing a fever.  

  • Beware when adjusting to a change in altitude, a rise in altitude of as little as 2,000 feet. Modify your training and request that supplemental oxygen be available to you.  

  • Seek prompt medical care when experiencing unusual physical distress.  

Image by Braden Collum
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