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I Have Sickle Cell Trait. Will I Pass the Disease Onto My Children?

I’m anxious to start a family, but my doctor recently told me that I carry the gene for sickle cell disease. I’m worried — will my children develop the disease?
-Laila*

Unless your partner has sickle cell disease or is a carrier of another beta globin gene mutation such as Bthal or Hbgc, or has the gene for sickle cell disease, your children will not have sickle cell disease. But, they will be carriers of the gene they’ve inherited from you.

Children can develop sickle cell disease if both parents are carriers of the sickle cell gene (called Hemoglobin S, or HbS, for short). If you’re healthy but a carrier of the gene, it means that your healthy genes are dominating over or hiding most of the effects of the sickle cell gene (this is called “sickle cell trait”). A person who has the disease carries the gene too, but doesn’t have healthier genes dominating or “hiding” the sickle cell gene.

A child has a 25% chance of developing the disease if both parents have sickle cell trait. That number goes up to about 50% when one parent has sickle cell trait and the other has sickle cell disease. If both parents have sickle cell disease, it’s likely that their children will have the disease, too.

If you’re concerned about your children’s risk for sickle cell disease, talk to your partner. Ask if there’s a family history of sickle cell disease. A simple blood test can confirm whether or not someone is a carrier of the gene for sickle cell disease. If you or your partner have sickle cell trait and you or your partner becomes pregnant, let your doctor know. At birth, your child will be tested for sickle cell disease.

Reviewed by: Robin E. Miller, MD
Date reviewed: August 2010
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