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Being An Athlete With Sickle Cell Trait (INFOGRAPHIC)

Author: Rosemary Buckle, M.D.

Sickle cell trait is a blood disorder that causes normal red blood cells (which are round-shaped) to turn into a crescent shape. This process, which is known as “sickling,” can cause blood cells to “logjam” in blood vessels, blocking healthy blood flow. Serious complications can result. An infographic from National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) helps provide some insight and tips for athletes with sickle cell traits. This information can be helpful for coaches and trainers, as well.

How to Prevent Sickling Collapse

An athlete’s sickle cell status should be confirmed during his or her pre-participation physical exam, advises NATA. SCT athletes can stay active and healthy by adhering to these guidelines:

    • Follow a pace-progression training program with longer periods of reset and recovery between repetitions.
    • Set your own pace.
    • Avoid performance tests such as mile runs, serial sprints, etc.
    • Stop activity at the onset of symptoms and report them immediately to your athletic trainer or coach.
    • Adjust work-rest cycles to accommodate environmental factors such as heat or change in altitude.
    • Check with your athletic trainer about the availability of oxygen in the event of an emergency.

Signs of Exertional Sickling

Just two or three minutes of all-out exertion is all it takes for signs of exertional sickling to show. Sickling can reach a dangerous level if athletes continue to struggle. Because the symptoms can sometimes be mistaken for cardiac or heat collapse, it’s important to recognize the differences:

    • Collapse can happen during the first 30 minutes of exertion.
    • Athlete is unable to catch breath.
    • Unlike heat cramping, muscles will not visibly twinge or spasm. They will feel normal to the touch.
    • Muscles feel weak, causing the player to slump to the ground.
    • Pain, tenderness and swelling occur.
    • Core temperature isn’t greatly elevated.

Factors that can increase an SCT athlete’s vulnerability to collapse include heat, dehydration, altitude and asthma.

Note: Not all athletes with SCT will present the same symptoms. If SCT athletes say they can’t go on, coaches and trainers need to respect this statement and allow rest. Sickle red cells will return to normal shape as they regain oxygen, allowing the athlete to feel better and return to activity.

Sickle Cell Trait & Athletes

For more information, check out the full infographic below…

Schedule With a Houston Sports Medicine Doctor

For other Houston sports medicine needs, schedule an appointment at Houston Institute for Sports Medicine & Orthopedics by calling (713) 756-5546. You can also schedule your appointment online.

Please consult with your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines.