Sickle cell tests are used to detect the presence of sickle shaped red blood cells that cause sickle cell anemia. Sickle cell anemia is an inherited disorder that is passed through generations. In this disease, a sickle shaped variant of the hemoglobin is produced which is also known as hemoglobin S.
This variant of the hemoglobin forms polymers in the red blood cell, changing the appearance of the cell. The red blood cell, which is disc shaped, becomes sickle shaped and its capacity to carry oxygen gets drastically reduced. Due to its new shape, the RBS is not able to move along the body as easily and swiftly as it earlier did. The life span of the red blood cell, which is normally about 120 days, also gets reduced to about 10 to 20 days. The body is unable to produce red blood cells to match the pace at which they die and because of this, the person becomes anemic.
People suffering from sickle cell anemia can also experience painful episodes and other complications if these cells get lodged in veins and narrow blood vessels.
Sickle cell testing may be performed in order to identify the presence of hemoglobin S or other abnormal versions of hemoglobin. A person who has sickle cell anemia may also have altered genes.
Sickle cell tests are generally ordered when a person has inexplicable anemia. This test can detect whether the patient is suffering from sickle cell anemia. It can also detect whether the patient is a carrier of the sickle cell disease by checking his genes.
The test for sickle cell can be conducted in various manners. There is the Hb S solubility test in which a blood sample is taken from the patient and to it, a chemical is added. This chemical reduces the amount of oxygen that the hemoglobin is carrying and if the person is a carrier of the disease, the S related polymers will begin to form, causing the RBS to change its shape.
Though this test is good for adults, in babies, this test may not be able to give accurate results.
Another test known as the DNA analysis test can be used to investigate mutations as well as alterations in hemoglobin producing genes. This test can ascertain whether a person is a carrier of the S variation of the gene or has multiple copies of the gene.
This test is ordered for prenatal testing and on individuals where sickle cell anemia has not yet been diagnosed.