Early diagnosis of sickle cell is very important because many complications can be prevented with early diagnosis and treatment. Sickle cell disease and sickle cell trait are both diagnosed with a simple blood test.
In 2006, it became mandatory to test all newborns for sickle cell in the United States. But older children and adults can be tested, too. If you were born before 2006 or if you don’t know if you were tested, you can ask your doctor for a blood test.
If the screening test is positive, more tests are needed to tell whether the person is a carrier for the sickle cell trait or, if the person has sickle cell disease, what type they have.
It’s also possible for doctors to diagnose sickle cell before birth. This is done by sampling some of the fluid surrounding the baby in the mother’s womb (amniotic fluid) or tissue taken from the placenta. This test can be done in the first few weeks of pregnancy if you know or think you may carry the gene. A woman can ask for a referral to a genetic counselor who can help her understand the risk to her baby.
If a baby is born with sickle cell, they may not show symptoms until about six months after birth. At the first doctor’s visit, the doctor will typically do a blood test to establish their normal hemoglobin level. Additional blood tests may occur at future visits to check hemoglobin levels and make sure that the red blood cell count is not too low (anemia). A doctor might also suggest additional tests to check for possible complications of the condition. If your doctor does not do these tests, ask for them.
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