Sickle Cell Trait Screening in Athletes Wrong, Blood Doctors Say
People with sickle cell trait can usually live normal lives without too much fuss over their health, but extreme conditions like dehydration and harsh physical training can put their lives in danger. Thant’s why the NCAA wants to require testing of all Division I athletes to identify those at risk.
The new NCAA rule was instituted in 2010 after a string of deaths in college athletes brought attention to the condition. Athletes with sickle cell trait can put their lives at risk when their red blood cells “sickle” and reduce the flow of blood to the body’s organs.
But now experts in blood disorders say the NCAA rule doesn’t make sense, National Public Radio reports.
“When we looked at the NCAA policy, we thought it was wrong,” said Dr. Janis Abkowithz of the American Society of Hematology. “We thought it was insufficient and overly broad.”
According to Abkowitz, screening without intervention or counseling can lead to misconceptions about living with sickle cell trait. For example, people face much higher risks of cardiac problems due to extreme exercise than they do from sickle cell trait, she said.
The society is moving to ask the NCAA to review its approach to the condition and instead institute something similar to the approach taken by the U.S. Army. According to NPR, the Army stopped screening for the condition in 1996 and instead asks members to pay attention to heat acclimatization, proper hydration and rest periods.
“Yes, you can play, and here’s how,” should be the message from the NCAA, Abkowitz said.