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Sickle Cell Test

A sickle cell test is a blood test done to check for sickle cell trait or sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disease that causes red blood cells to be deformed (sickle-shaped camera.gif). The red blood cells deform because they contain an abnormal type of hemoglobin, called hemoglobin S, instead of the normal hemoglobin, called hemoglobin A.

Sickled blood cells are destroyed by the body faster than normal blood cells. This causes anemia. Also, sickled cells can get trapped in blood vessels and reduce or block blood flow. This can damage organs, muscles, and bones and may lead to life-threatening conditions.

The best way to check for sickle cell trait or sickle cell disease is to look at the blood using a method called high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). This test identifies which type of hemoglobin is present. To confirm the results of HPLC, a genetic test may be done.

Sickle cell disease is an autosomal recessive disease. This means that to have the disease, a person must inherit a gene for the disease from both parents. Each person inherits two genes (one from each parent). As a result, a person may have:

  • Two genes that make normal hemoglobin (hemoglobin A). These people have normal red blood cells, unless they have some other disease.
  • One gene that makes hemoglobin A and one that makes hemoglobin S. These people carry the sickle cell trait (and are called "a carrier"), but they do not have sickle cell disease. Sickle cell trait is usually a harmless condition.
  • Two genes that make hemoglobin S. These people have sickle cell disease. Both parents either carry the sickle cell trait or have the disease. Sickled red blood cells often cause recurring health problems called sickle cell crises.
  • One gene that makes hemoglobin S and one that makes some other abnormal type of hemoglobin. Depending on the other type of abnormal hemoglobin, these people may have mild or severe sickle cell disorder.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all newborns be tested for sickle cell disease.1

Why It Is Done

A sickle cell test is done to help diagnose sickle cell disease.

A sickle cell test is also done to screen for sickle cell trait or sickle cell disease. This test may be done for newborns and for people at high risk. Detecting sickle cell trait is important for couples who want to have children and who may be carriers of sickle cell trait.

How To Prepare

Be sure to tell your doctor if you have had a blood transfusion in the past 4 months because it can interfere with the test results.

How It Is Done

Blood sample from a vein

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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