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abstracts & posters

Sickle cell trait: the risks for athletic participation

key information

source: American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology

year: 2017

authors: Anil George, Antonio D. Logan, Mindy Simpson, Paul Kent


Sickle cell trait (SCT) is an inherited blood disorder that affects 1 to 3 million people in the United States and more than 100 million people worldwide. Previous studies have suggested that having sickle cell trait increases one’s risk of exertional rhabdomyolysis and subsequent death. A number of these cases highlighting several high-profile deaths have been reported in both television and newspaper media and attributed death to SCT. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that SCT was not associated with a higher risk of death than absence of the trait. None of the medical experts in the National Institutes of Health (NIH), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise against participation in competitive sports. We performed a retrospective review of both newspaper and television media to determine if television and newspaper media opinion used evidence-based guidelines in accurately depicting the risks associated with SCT.

To highlight the discrepancy between the evidence-based guidelines in the medical community with the depiction of SCT-associated risks in national television and newspaper media.

Three of the 6 television networks and 9 of the 10 newspaper outlets reported stories relating to SCT, however 1 of the 6 television networks and 3 of the 10 newspaper outlets referenced evidence-based guidelines. Additionally just 1 of the 6 television networks and 2 of the 10 newspaper outlets quoted the NCAA policy pertaining to athletic participation.

The absolute risks of SCT are known to be low, but not well described by the mainstream media. More accurate risk estimates are needed, as well as continued research into contributing factors. Widespread dissemination of universal precautions for exertion-related illness and a consistent positive message of SCT participation in athletics may lead to less discrimination of SCT individuals and an overall reduction morbidity and mortality.

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