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Sickle Cell Trait Needs More Awareness, Too (Part 1)

November 26, 2014 by Andrea


We all know about the intense, debilitating pain associated with sickle cell disease crises, as well as the other effects SCD has on its warriors. However, while the general consensus is that the sickle cell trait is harmless, carriers are also at risk for certain complications.  According to a 2009 article in The American Journal of Medicine, entitled "Complications Associated with Sickle Cell Trait: A Brief Narrative Review," it states "Although largely a protective carrier state, sickle cell trait is associated with rare but fatal renal medullary cancer, exercise-related deaths, splenic infarction [when oxygen supply to the spleen is cut off], hematura, hyposthenuria, venous thromoembolism [blood clot], complicated hyphema [blood in front of the eye], and fetal loss." 

In this first part of our sickle cell trait mini-series, we'll be exploring how people with the trait are at a higher risk for kidney disease -- especially within the African-American community.

As reported by Reuters Health, African Americans who carry the sickle cell trait are 60 percent more likely than those without the trait to suffer from kidney disease. “The theory is that under very highly stressful situations (such as a low oxygen levels) . . . there may be some localized sickling that happens in the kidney that is leading to functional impairment,” Dr. Rakhi Naik, the head of this research, told Reuters. 

While chronic kidney disease and end stage renal disease tend to be found in older adults with the sickle cell trait, other kidney-related complications can strike earlier. Just ask 23-year-old Shawniece Wilmore. After experiencing lower back pain for six weeks or so, she went to the doctor only to find out that she has renal medullary carcinoma. "Renal medullary carcinoma is a rare, aggressive tumor of the kidney that is seen almost exclusively in young individuals with sickle cell trait."* Only three patients have been known to survive this type of cancer, with the longest survival time being recorded as eight years. 

Other kidney-related complications that may arise in those with sickle cell trait are*:

1) Hematuria. The most common complication for those with sickle cell trait, hematuria is the occurrence of blood in the urine. 
2) Hyposthenuria. This happens when the kidneys become unable to produce concentrated urine. 
3) Renal papillary necrosis. This is a kidney disorder in which all or part of the tissues around the collecting ducts die.

With 1 in 12 African Americans carrying the sickle cell trait, it's important to also raise awareness about its potential complications, in conjunction with raising awareness for sickle cell disease. 

Next week, we'll be discussing Part 2 of our sickle cell trait mini-series: sickle cell trait and the risks to athletes and military recruits. Be sure to check back for that post, as well.


Are you a carrier? Have you experienced any complications? Share your story in the comments below!  

*2009, The American Journal of Medicine: "Complications Associated with Sickle Cell Trait: A Brief Narrative Review"

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