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Debate Heats Up Over Screening Athletes for Sickle Cell Trait
Date:12/28/2012

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Dec. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Though heart problems or heatstroke generally are to blame for a young athlete's sudden death, experts now know that carrying an aberration called the sickle cell trait also poses substantial risk.

That has led to mandatory screening for anyone hoping to participate in National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I athletics. Not everyone, however, thinks that's a good idea.

Having the sickle cell trait is different from having sickle cell disease. People with the sickle cell trait inherited a sickle cell gene from one parent, but not both. Because they just inherited one gene, they won't have sickle cell disease, which develops because of abnormal red blood cells that can lead to anemia, pain, infection, and organ damage.

In the United States, an estimated one of every 500 blacks and one of every 36,000 Hispanics have sickle cell disease.

By contrast, one of every 12 blacks has sickle cell trait, although most people with the trait never show signs or symptoms of the disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The exception to this is when a person with the sickle cell trait becomes dehydrated and experiences low oxygen levels -- a condition that can develop when someone who hasn't been especially athletic suddenly participates in intense exercise, such as military boot camp or pre-season training for athletic competitions.

"In military personnel, they found a 30-fold increase in the risk of sudden death for people with sickle cell trait who were in boot camps," explained Dr. Robert Dimeff, medical director of sports medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

The sudden death of a college football player with the sickle cell trait prompted the NCAA policy in 2010. Now, all Division I athletes must have what's known as a sickle cell solubility tes
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