Keywords: Sickle cell trait, exertional death (PubMed Search)
Sickle cell trait (SCT) is common and often overlooked clinically
-7.3% African Americans
SCT is a leading cause of exertional death in athletes who play football
The exact mechanism is unknown but likely involves a combination of high intensity exercise, dehydration, heat strain and inadequate opportunity for cardiovascular recovery leading to microvascular erythrocyte sickling.
This leads to hypoxia, cell death, hyperkalemia, and death from arrhythmia.
Presentation often involves rhabdomyolysis and exertional collapse.
In August of 2010 the NCAA enacted legislation requiring documentation of SCT status of all Division 1 athletes (2012 for Division 2 and 2014 for Division 3)
They also mandated education, counseling and issued guidelines for proper conditioning
Sudden death in athletes with SCT was first observed in military recruits in 1970.
Death in African American military recruits was 28 times more likely in those with SCT than in those without.
A 2012 study of football athletes found the risk of exertional death to be 37 times higher in athletes with SCT than in those without.
Despite game/competition situations being more intense, deaths occur almost exclusively during practice and conditioning drills.
Following the 2010 legislation, there has been a 89% decrease in death from SCT in NCAA D1 football.
Workout plans need to account for heat/humidity, the athletes level of conditioning and allow for adequate rest, recovery, hydration. SCT screening is only part of the solution.
Buchanan et al., 2020. Sudden Death Associated With Sickle Cell Trait Before and After Mandatory Screening. Sports Health.