April is National Minority Health Month, where the focus lies in raising awareness about health issues in minority communities. This month highlights a blood disorder that affects many minority communities around the world: sickle cell disease and sickle cell trait.

Roughly 100,000 Americans are living with sickle cell disease, according to the American Society of Hematology and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sickle cell disease is a genetic condition that causes the red blood cells to become C-shaped or "sickled." The sickled shape hinders the blood cells from carrying adequate amounts of oxygen that is needed for the blood and muscles. This blood disease occurs when a person inherits a sickle cell gene from each parent, which causes sickled red blood cells to die early. Sickle cell trait is the inheritance of one sickle cell gene from a parent and is usually less severe than the disease.

These blood disorders are most common among individuals of African descent; however, sickle cell trait is also common among several ethnic groups from the following regions: Central and South America, Middle East, Asia, India, and the Mediterranean. Individuals with the trait often live normal lives and are less likely to experience negative effects because of the sickled red blood cells. However, individuals with the sickle cell trait should pay special attention to physical activity routines.

Physical Activity

Being active is an important component to staying physically and mentally healthy. Most individuals with the trait do not experience adverse effects from moderate physical activity, but intense physical activity can be harmful to an individual's health. Serious complications with sickle cell trait and physical activity can result in dehydration, overheating, and sudden death. Knowing the warning signs of exercise-related illnesses before engaging in intense physical activity is important to maintaining your health.

Warning signs of exercise-related illnesses:
• Muscle burning, weakness, pain and/or cramps
• Rapid breathing
• Feeling overheated
• Unable to cool down
• Extended exhaustion or fatigue

If you or a loved one begins to experience the warning signs listed above, do the following:
• Stop exercising
• Report the symptoms
• Rest and re-hydrate
• Cool down
• Seek medical care

If you do not know if you have sickle cell, ask your healthcare provider to test your blood at your next annual physical exam. It is important to remember that individuals with sickle cell trait can live normal lives, but pay attention to warning signs that could affect your health. Make sure to drink plenty of water and take plenty of breaks during your exercise routines.

For more information on sickle cell visit http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/sicklecell/index.html or
http://www.hematology.org/Patients/Anemia/.