Sickle Cell Information

Written by:                                                           Release: 07/23/2009

The NCAA mandates that prior to participation in any intercollegiate athletic event, including strength and conditioning sessions, practices, competitions, or try-outs, all student-athletes have to confirm their sickle cell trait status by providing proof of testing. Additionally, each student athlete should be educated about sickle cell trait.

What is Sickle Cell Trait ?

  • Sickle cell trait is an inherited condition of the oxygen-carrying protein, hemoglobin, in the red blood cells.
  • Although Sickle cell trait is most predominant in African-Americans and those of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Indian, Caribbean, and South and Central American ancestry, persons of all races and ancestry may test positive for sickle cell trait.
  • Sickle cell trait is usually benign, but during intense, sustained exercise, hypoxia (lack of oxygen) in the muscles may cause sickling of red blood cells (red blood cells changing from a normal disc shape to a crescent or "sickle" shape), which can accumulate in the bloodstream and "logjam" blood vessels, leading to collapse from the rapid breakdown of muscles starved of blood.
  • Likely sickling settings include timed runs, all out exertion of any type for 2 - 3 continuous minutes without a rest period, intense drills and other spurts of exercise after prolonged conditioning exercises, and other extreme conditioning sessions.
  • Common signs and symptoms of a sickle cell emergency include, but are not limited to: increased pain and weakness in the working muscles (especially the legs, buttocks, and/or low back); cramping type pain of muscles; soft, flaccid muscle tone; and/or immediate symptoms with no early warning signs.

Testing Procedure

  • Quinnipiac Sports Medicine will make every effort to determine a student athlete's sickle cell testing history. This will be accomplished by informing new student athletes of the NCAA mandate prior to their arrival on campus.
  • For those student-athletes who are unsure of their status, the department will request the student-athlete's to obtain their records from birth (most infants are tested at birth).
  • If the student athlete's birth records are not available, the department of sports medicine will provide each athlete with the opportunity to be tested.
  • Sickle cell trait testing may be requested by the medical staff if the student athlete has symptoms to suggest sickling such as recurrent cramping or muscle injury.

For athletes confirmed positive for the sickle cell trait, the following precautions will be taken in order to prevent complications:

  • The student athlete will slowly build up the intensity and duration of their training with paced progressions. This will also include longer periods for rest and recovery.
  • The student athlete will participate in pre-season conditioning programs in order to prepare them for the rigors of their competitive seasons.The student athlete may have modified performance tests such as mile runs, serial sprints, etc.
  • The student athlete will stop all activity and seek medical evaluation with the onset of symptoms such as "muscle cramping," pain, swelling, weakness, tenderness, fatigue, or the inability to "catch breath."
  • The student athlete will be given the opportunity to set their own pace during conditioning drills.
  • The student athlete's participation may be altered during periods of heat stress, dehydration, asthma, illness, or activity in high altitudes.

Resources for more information:


Sickel Cell Trait Testing Form

Sickle Cell Waiver