Newborn Screening Information for Families: Trait - Minnesota Dept. of Health

Newborn Screening Information for Families:
Hemoglobin and Sickle Cell Trait

On this page:
What is Trait?
Hemoglobin Trait Communication
Why It Is Important To Know If You Have A Hemoglobin Trait
Fact Sheets
FAQs
Additional Information & Resources
Hemglobin Trait Contact Information


What is Trait?

Trait is when a person has some normal hemoglobin and some abnormal hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is part of the red blood cells and its job is to carry oxygen throughout the body. One type of testing done in newborn screening is to look for a group of disorders called hemoglobinopathies.

Hemoglobinopathies are inherited disorders that affect the structure of the hemoglobin. You may be familiar with the most common hemoglobinopathy, sickle cell disease. However, unlike sickle cell disease, an individual with trait is expected to be healthy and could live their whole life without knowing they have trait. While sickle cell trait is the most common trait, there are many other traits as well (such as C trait, E trait, or D trait). When any trait is inherited along with normal hemoglobin, it is expected that a person would be healthy.


Hemoglobin Trait Communication

If a baby is found to have a trait through newborn screening, the mother of the baby will be sent a packet of information in the mail about the specific trait the baby was found to have.

We will directly contact the baby's doctor or clinic listed on the newborn screening card to confirm they have seen the baby and send them the results of the newborn screen. This is one of the reasons it is important for hospitals and birth providers to get the name of a baby's doctor or clinic so that the baby's newborn screening results can be promptly sent to them.

Parents of babies with a trait should:

  • Have a discussion with their baby's doctor about the result, their next steps, and the importance of the result for themselves, their child, and their family.
  • Make sure to have their baby retested for the trait to confirm the result.
  • Keep a record of the test results and the packet of information from the newborn screening program for future reference.

Why It Is Important To Know If You Have A Hemoglobin Trait

Hemoglobin trait is inherited from your parents, like hair or eye color. If one parent has a hemoglobin trait, there is a 50% (1 in 2) chance with each pregnancy of having a child with a hemoglobin trait.

If both parents have a hemoglobin trait, there is a 25% (1 in 4) chance with each pregnancy of having a child with a serious hemoglobin disease, like sickle cell disease.

With each pregnancy, this couple has a 25% (1 in 4) chance of having a child with sickle cell disease, a 50% (2 in 4) chance of having a child with sickle cell trait, and a 25% (1 in 4) chance of having a child with no trait or disease.


Fact Sheets

You can find our trait fact sheets on the Blood Spot Disorders: Information & Resources webpage:


Frequently Asked Questions

A: The most important reason to know if you have a trait is for family planning. Individuals who have a trait are at a higher risk to have a child with a hemoglobin disease, like sickle cell disease. Also, there are some rare health problems that can happen in people with a trait, so it can be important for doctors to discuss trait status with their patients every year. To learn about your individual risk, talk with a healthcare professional or a genetic counselor.
A: Babies are tested at birth for many different hemoglobin disorders, including sickle cell disease. The way this testing is done it shows babies who have a trait, even though that is not what is being looked for. Since trait runs in families, it is important to let the baby’s caregiver and doctor know this was found.
A: People from any race or ethnicity can have a hemoglobin trait. Certain types of hemoglobin trait are more common in people of certain ethnicities. For example, sickle cell trait is most common in individuals of from sub-Saharan African descent, but can also be found in people from South America, Caribbean, Central America, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and India. Other traits such as hemoglobin E trait are most common in individuals of Southeast Asian descent. Hemoglobin D trait is most common in people of East Indian descent.
A: The only way to know if you have a hemoglobin trait is to be tested. A simple blood test called a hemoglobin electrophoresis can tell you if you have a hemoglobin trait.
A: Minnesota has been screening for sickle cell disease since 1988. The testing also detects healthy babies with sickle cell trait and other hemoglobin traits. Unfortunately, MDH was required to destroy the blood spots and test results for all individuals with blood spots collected before August 1, 2014. The only exceptions are if a parent provided written consent for long-term storage and use of her or his child's blood spots and test results.

We understand that the NCAA requires student athletes to provide their sickle cell trait status before participation in intercollegiate athletics.

The following options are available to collegiate athletes:

  • Contact medical records at the hospital where you were born to request a copy of your newborn screening results. It is possible they no longer have the test results.
  • Check with the clinic where you received medical care as a baby to see if they have a copy of the results. It is possible they do not have the test results.
  • Make an appointment to get a blood test (hemoglobin electrophoresis) through your primary care provider or student health service.
  • Discuss waiver options with your college athletics department.

We hope you find this information helpful and wish you great success in college! If you have additional questions about sickle cell trait testing, you can speak with one of our genetic counselors at 651-201-3548 or email us at health.newbornscreening@state.mn.us


Additional Information & Resources


Hemoglobin Trait Contact Information

Questions? Call our genetic counselors at 651-201-3548 or email at health.newbornscreening@state.mn.us