Diagnosis

A blood test can check for hemoglobin S — the defective form of hemoglobin that underlies sickle cell anemia. In the United States, this blood test is part of routine newborn screening done at the hospital. But older children and adults can be tested, too.

In adults, a blood sample is drawn from a vein in the arm. In young children and babies, the blood sample is usually collected from a finger or heel. The sample is then sent to a laboratory, where it's screened for hemoglobin S.

If the screening test is negative, there is no sickle cell gene present. If the screening test is positive, further tests will be done to determine whether one or two sickle cell genes are present.

Additional tests

If you or your child has sickle cell anemia, a blood test to check for a low red blood cell count (anemia) will be done. Your doctor might suggest additional tests to check for possible complications of the disease.

If you or your child carries the sickle cell gene, you'll likely be referred to a genetic counselor.

Tests to detect sickle cell genes before birth

Sickle cell disease can be diagnosed in an unborn baby by sampling some of the fluid surrounding the baby in the mother's womb (amniotic fluid) to look for the sickle cell gene. If you or your partner has been diagnosed with sickle cell anemia or sickle cell trait, ask your doctor about whether you should consider this screening. Ask for a referral to a genetic counselor who can help you understand the risk to your baby.