Sickle Cell Trait in Athletes by National Athletic Trainers' Association

In a recent review of non-traumatic sports deaths in high school and college athletes (1), the top four killers, in order of occurrence, were (listed below):


cardiovascular conditions, hyperthermia (heatstroke), acute rhabdomyolysis tied to sickle cell trait, and asthma. 


Acute exertional rhabdomyolysis (explosive muscle breakdown) from sickle cell trait is the least understood of these conditions. The purpose of this Task Force is to raise awareness of this condition and provide measures to reduce the risk of exertional collapse related to sickle cell trait.




Sickle cell trait is the inheritance of one gene for sickle hemoglobin and one for normal hemoglobin. During intense or extensive exertion, the sickle hemoglobin can change the shape of red cells from round to quarter-moon, or “sickle.”


This change, exertional sickling, can pose a grave risk for some athletes. In the past seven years, exertional sickling has killed nine athletes, ages 12 through 19.


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