A hemoglobin electrophoresis test measures the different types of hemoglobin in the bloodstream. Hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein inside red blood cells, comes in many molecular forms, some normal and some abnormal. Normal hemoglobin carries and releases oxygen efficiently, while abnormal hemoglobin doesn't.
The most common types of normal hemoglobin are:
If a person inherits the genes that cause production of too much of an abnormal type of hemoglobin, or not enough normal hemoglobin, it can lead to blood disorders, including:
The electrophoresis process takes advantage of the fact that hemoglobin types have different electrical charges. During electrophoresis, an electrical current is passed through the hemoglobin in someone's blood sample, which causes the hemoglobin types to separate at different rates and form bands. By comparing the pattern formed with that of a normal blood sample, doctors can see the types and quantities of hemoglobin present in the blood sample.
A doctor may order hemoglobin electrophoresis to help diagnose diseases (called hemoglobinopathies) involving abnormal hemoglobin production, such as sickle cell disease and thalassemia.
Doctors also may order the test when a child has family history of a hemoglobinopathy or is found to have anemia that isn't due to a more common cause, such as iron deficiency.
In many states, a hemoglobin electrophoresis is performed as part of a series of newborn screening blood tests, primarily so that kids with sickle cell anemia can be diagnosed, monitored, and treated early to prevent potentially life-threatening complications.
No special preparation is necessary. However, if your child has had a transfusion in the last 3 months, hemoglobin levels may be altered, so let the doctor know.
On the day of the test, it may help to have your child wear a short-sleeve shirt to allow easier access for the technician who will be drawing the blood.
A health professional will usually draw the blood from a vein. For an infant, the blood may be obtained by puncturing the heel with a small needle (lancet). If the blood is being drawn from a vein, the skin surface is cleaned with antiseptic and an elastic band (tourniquet) is placed around the upper arm to apply pressure and cause the veins to swell with blood. A needle is inserted into a vein (usually in the arm inside of the elbow or on the back of the hand) and blood is withdrawn and collected in a vial or syringe.
After the procedure, the elastic band is removed. Once the blood has been collected, the needle is removed and the area is covered with cotton or a bandage to stop the bleeding. Collecting the blood for the test will only take a few minutes.
Either method (heel or vein withdrawal) of collecting a blood sample is only temporarily uncomfortable and can feel like a quick pinprick. Afterward, there may be some mild bruising, which should go away in a day or so.
The blood sample will be processed by a machine. The results are commonly available after 1-2 days.
Hemoglobin electrophoresis is considered a safe procedure. However, some problems can occur with having blood drawn, including:
Having a blood test is relatively painless. Still, many children are afraid of needles. Explaining the test in terms your child can understand might help ease some of the fear.
Allow your child to ask the technician any questions he or she might have. Tell your child to try to relax and stay still during the procedure, as tensing muscles and moving can make it harder and more painful to draw blood. It also may help for your child to look away when the needle is being inserted into the skin.
If you have questions about the hemoglobin electrophoresis test, speak with your doctor. You can also talk to the technician before the procedure.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: February 2011
|National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) The NHLBI provides the public with educational resources relating to the treatment of heart, blood vessel, lung, and blood diseases as well as sleep disorders.|
|Sickle Cell Disease Association of America This group provides education, advocacy, and other initiatives to promote awareness of and support for sickle cell disease programs.|
|Sickle Cell Information Center The mission of this site is to provide patient and professional education, news, research updates, and sickle cell resources.|
|Cooley's Anemia Foundation This organization provides information about Cooley's Anemia and other forms of the genetic blood disorder thalassemia.|
|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
|Sickle Cell Anemia More than 70,000 Americans have sickle cell anemia, which occurs when someone inherits two abnormal genes that cause red blood cells to change shape. Find out more.|
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|Do You Know About Sickle Cell Anemia? Sickle cell anemia gets its name because a person's red blood cells turn from a doughnut shape into a curved sickle shape. What's a sickle look like?|
|Alpha Thalassemia Alpha thalassemia is a blood disorder in which the body has a problem producing alpha globin, a component of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body.|
|Blood Test (Video) This video shows what it's like to get a blood test.|
|Sickle Cell Disease Thanks to advancements in early diagnosis and treatment, most kids born with sickle cell disease grow up to live relatively healthy and productive lives.|
|Getting a Blood Test (Video) A blood test might sound scary, but it usually takes less than a minute. Watch what happens in this video for kids.|
|Anemia Anemia is common in teens because they undergo rapid growth spurts, when the body has a greater need for nutrients like iron. Learn about anemia, including how to lower your risk of getting it and how it's treated.|
|About Anemia What does it mean when a kid has anemia? Learn about anemia, why kids get it, and how it's treated in our article for kids.|
|Anemia Anemia, one of the more common blood disorders, occurs when the number of healthy red blood cells decreases. This can result in a variety of symptoms, including fatigue and stress on all the body's organs.|
|Newborn Screening Tests Newborn screening tests look for harmful or potentially fatal disorders that aren't apparent at birth. Find out which tests are done and which disorders they're designed to detect.|
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