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Stanford University School of Medicine

Sickle cell trait less dangerous than thought

military guysIn the fall of 2006, a 19-year-old college football player died the day after a vigorous workout, the result, medical examiners said, of complications from a gene mutation common in those of African, Indian and Mediterranean descent. Dale Lloyd and his parents hadn’t known it, but Lloyd carried a single copy of the sickle cell gene variant, giving him sickle cell trait.

After Lloyd’s death, his parents sued the school, which led to a new NCAA rule requiring that all student athletes at Division I and II schools be tested for sickle cell trait or sign a waiver. The fear was that the intense exercise regimens of college athletics could increase the risk of death among athletes with sickle cell trait.

Now a Stanford-led study of nearly 50,000 active duty soldiers in the U.S. Army suggests that soldiers with sickle cell trait have no increased risk of death — provided they follow standard safety precautions, including gradual increases in exercise and adequate water and rest breaks.

The study, which appears in the New England Journal of Medicine, capitalized on the Stanford Military Data Repository, which includes all digitally recorded health encounters, records of physical performance and mortality of active-duty U.S. Army soldiers. I talked about the work with senior author Lianne Kurina, PhD, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford, who told me:

The most important thing to come out of this study is the really reassuring news that under conditions of universal precautions against dehydration and overheating, we don’t see an elevation in the risk of mortality in people with sickle cell trait.

My news release has more details.

Photo by The U.S. Army

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