LSU Athletic Trainers Educate the Community on Sickle Cell at the Annual LSU Health and Wellness Fair

Each year the LSU community joins together to host a Health and Wellness Fair. The fair provides an opportunity for the LSU population to interact with many different organizations on campus which support and promote wellness, including student organizations, LSU departments, and community agents. Over 100 various booths are set up in the Student Union which allow participants to gather information on many different wellness topics and also provide the opportunity to receive free health screenings including: cholesterol levels, glucose levels, blood pressure, hearing, and vision.

In the past the LSU Athletic Training Department, particularly Shelly Mullenix, Senior Associate Athletic Trainer/Director of Wellness, has made it a point to have the Athletic Trainers at LSU be involved in the Wellness Fair. Mullenix states, "As a health care provider, I feel it is important for Athletic Trainers to utilize opportunities such as these to educate not only the athletic teams we provide care for, but the general population as well." Along with Mullenix, one of the LSU Graduate Assistant Certified Athletic Trainers, Ben Stollberg, created informational pamphlets as well as coordinated attendance of our Certified Athletic Trainers at the Wellness Fair. The Athletic Training Department chose the topic of Sickle Cell to provide information on at the Health and Wellness Fair this year.

Sickle cell anemia is a chronic hereditary blood disorder in which red blood cells (RBC) are sickle or crescent shaped instead of round. It is caused by an abnormal type of hemoglobin in the blood. A person may either have sickle cell disease, sickle cell trait, or neither. It is an inherited disease and thus is present from birth and cannot be acquired later in life. Sickle cell is most prevalent in African American, Native American, and Mediterranean populations.

Complications of sickle cell may include, but are not limited to:
  • Decreased oxygen transport.
  • Shorter RBC lifespan, leading to a deficiency of RBCs.
  • Increased risk of thrombi or "clogged" blood vessels.
  • Increased risk of rhabdomyolysis (rapid breakdown of muscle tissue due to lack of blood supply). The risk is 200 times greater for people with sickle cell trait and is also the leading cause of death in athletes that have "sickle cell crisis".

Due to the complications of sickle cell it is easy to see that it is important for Athletic Trainers (and athletes) be educated on this blood disease. As Shawn Eddy, Senior Associate Athletic Trainer, stated in our previous newsletter, "Here at LSU we do a simple blood test on each of our student-athletes during their pre-participation physical exams to screen for both sickle cell trait and sickle cell disease." Knowing this can help Athletic Trainers better monitor student-athletes during workouts and respond if that student-athlete ever experiences a sickle cell crisis. Student-athletes with sickle cell trait or disease have increased risk of complications due to the exhaustive nature of practice and competitions. Extensive exhaustive exercise can induce sickling of the RBCs. Heat, dehydration, altitude, and asthma also contribute to increased risk or sickling. Sickle cell collapse is often mistaken for a cardiac problem or heat related problem.

How to Tell the Difference Between Heat Cramping and Sickle Cell Crisis:

  • Heat cramping is often preceded by muscle twitches; sickling is not.
  • The pain is "different"; heat cramping pain is more excruciating.
  • Heat crampers hobble to a halt with "locked up" muscles, while sickling players slump to the ground with weak muscle.
  • Heat crampers have visibly contracted, rock hard muscles. Sickling players have muscles that look and feel normal.
  • Sickling players caught early and treated right recover faster than players with major heat cramping.

The fact that many people, not just athletes, are active and potentially vulnerable to the complications of sickle cell means education can become important for everyone. All people are screened for sickle cell at birth. However, many do not know the results of these screens. Since sickle cell is an inherited disease, blood screening only needs to be done once and is very easy to do. Just as many health care providers do, Athletic Trainers often encourage screenings such as sickle cell for everyone.