What you need to know
Individuals with sickle cell anemia can participate in school activities and in athletics. However, because of the issues of anemia and fatigue and their sensitivity to dehydration and to cold temperatures, care must be taken to insure their safety.
Sickle cell carriers:
Although sickle cell carriers or those with what is called sickle cell trait are not a focus of this educational tool, you should be aware of the controversy in the sickle cell community about those individuals and their ability to compete in athletics.
- In April of 2010, primarily as a result of legal actions related to a death of a college football player, the NCAA adopted a policy requiring Division I institutions to perform sickle cell trait testing for all incoming student athletes.
- This policy has been met with opposition in the sickle cell community as well as within the medical community, due to the lack of clear scientific evidence or studies and the risk of stigmatization.
- Both the American Society of Hematologists and the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America have come out with statements against testing as a prerequisite for participation in athletic activities and recommendations for implementation of universal interventions to reduce exertion-related injuries and deaths.
- National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) - Sickle Cell Trait resources and frequently asked questions
If you live in New England (USA) and qualify, Northeast Passage offers Therapeutic Recreation and Adaptive Sports programming.
What you can do
- Emphasize hydration and make sure that there is access to water and other fluids for all activities
- Avoid extremes of temperature (i.e., swimming in cold water or playing in snow can trigger a pain episode).
- Build up the exercise program slowly and encourage conditioning programs
- Avoid performance tests such as mile runs, or serial sprints
- Allow the individual with sickle cell disease to set their own pace
- Stop the activity if muscle cramping, pain, swelling, inability to “catch their breath” or fatigue occurs