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Sickle Cell Trait: 5 Problems to Know About

People with sickle cell trait can have health problems, but these don’t happen often. Know what to watch for and how to stay well. If a problem happens, get help as soon as possible.

What Health Problems Should I Watch for if I Have Sickle Cell Trait?

Call your doctor right away if you:

  • Have muscle cramps or weakness or feel exhausted or overheated with exercise. If muscles don’t get enough oxygen during intense exercise, there’s a small chance it can lead to other problems.
  • Get an eye injury. Eye injuries that cause bleeding in front of the pupil (called a hyphema) can lead to high eye pressure (glaucoma).
  • See blood in your pee. Blood in your pee might look pink, red, or brown. It’s usually not serious, but rarely can be a sign of kidney cancer, or renal medullary carcinoma (pronounced: REE-nul MEH-deh-lair-ee kar-sih-NOH-meh).
  • Have sudden pain on the left side of your belly or left shoulder. This could mean your spleen isn’t getting enough blood, a problem called splenic infarct (pronounced: SPLIN-ik IN-farkt).
  • Feel pain that you can’t explain.

Problems are more likely to happen if you:

  • are very dehydrated
  • exercise very hard (like during intense sports or military training)
  • spend time at a high altitude (like during mountain climbing or while visiting a city with a high elevation)
  • spend time where the atmospheric pressure is high (like during scuba diving)

The good news is that doing things like staying hydrated and exercising safely can help prevent some of these problems.

To learn more about sickle cell trait, visit:

Reviewed by: Corinna L. Schultz, MD
Date Reviewed: Apr 4, 2023

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