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Can biracial children get sickle cell disease?

M. Laurence Noisette, MD, FAAP


Can biracial children get sickle cell disease?

Yes, they can. Sickle cell disease can affect people of ANY race or ethnicity.

Sickle cell disease, an inherited disorder of the red blood cells, is more common in African Americans in the U.S. compared to other ethnicities—occurring in approximately 1 in 365 African Americans. However, there are other groups of people who also may inherit sickle cell disease.

It is common in Africa, in Mediterranean countries (such as Greece, Turkey, and Italy), the Arabian Peninsula, India, Spanish-speaking regions in South and Central America, and parts of the Caribbean. In all those regions, both dark and light skin people can carry copies of the sickle cell genes.

What's the difference between sickle cell disease and sickle cell trait?

Just like the color of their skin and eyes, children with sickle cell disease are born with it. Sickle cell disease is an autosomal recessive genetic disease, meaning that children inherit the disease from both parents. Without getting too technical, a child must have two copies of the sickle cell gene—one from each parent—to have sickle cell disease.

If a person only has one copy of the sickle cell gene and no other hemoglobin variant, then he or she does not have sickle cell disease. These people have sickle cell trait, and usually do not have any health-related problems because of the gene. They can still pass on this one copy of the sickle cell gene to their children, however.

How do I know if my child has sickle cell disease?

Every state in the U.S. provides a newborn screening test for sickle cell trait and sickle cell disease. Each year, the screening tests identify about 2,000 babies born with the disease. It's a good idea to ask your child's doctor for the results of this test and discuss them together. If newborn screening results are not available and your child's doctor is concerned that your child might have sickle cell disease, he or she can also order a different blood test.

Additional Information & Resources:

M. Laurence Noisette, MD, FAAP

M. Laurence Noisette, MD, FAAP, is a post-residency training member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Sections on Hemotology/Oncology and Early Career Physicians. She is also a member of the South Carolina Chapter. Dr. Noisette was born and raised in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and completed a training in pediatrics after the devastating 2010 earthquake in a resource-limited environment.

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American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2019)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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