Living with sickle cell

September 06, 2023
illustration of sickle cells in bloodstream

Sickle cell trait (SCT) is an inherited blood disorder most common among people of African, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern descent. People with SCT inherited a sickle cell gene from one of their parents. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), SCT affects one in 12 African Americans in the United States.

 Most people with SCT do not have symptoms of sickle cell disease (SCD). In some cases, however, people with SCT can experience complications from intense exertion.

A child who receives a sickle cell gene from each parent is at risk of developing SCD, a painful, inherited blood disorder that affects the red blood cells. SCD causes red blood cells to become rigid and shaped like a sickle, which looks like the letter “C.” The sickle-shaped red blood cells are not flexible and do not move easily within the body. This can cause problems with blood flow and damages many organs, including the brain and kidneys.

Testing for SCT before conceiving

People with SCT can pass the sickle cell gene on to their children. Fortunately, genetic testing is available for soon-to-be parents who want to find out if they are SCT carriers.

HealthSelectSM medical plans may cover SCT genetic testing for soon-to-be parents who are at high risk of carrying SCT. Before starting a family, soon-to-be parents can talk with their primary care provider (PCP) about getting tested for the SCT gene. Coverage for the genetic testing requires prior authorization from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas (BCBSTX).

Screening for and symptoms of SCD

Most often, SCD is found during screening tests for newborns. HealthSelect medical plans cover sickle cell screenings for all newborns.

A child can start developing signs and symptoms of sickle cell disease as early as five or six months old. Symptoms of sickle cell disease vary from person to person and may include:

  • jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes,
  • less energy and
  • painful swelling in the hands and feet.

HealthSelect treatment options

If you are living with sickle cell disease, your primary care provider will work with you to develop an appropriate care plan. HealthSelect medical plans cover many sickle cell treatment options. Some treatments may require prior authorization from BCBSTX.

As a HealthSelect plan participant, you have access to BCBSTX care management clinicians and BCBSTX Personal Health Assistants at no extra cost. Clinicians can help you understand and follow the treatment plan from your provider. They can also help you identify possible triggers causing your pain, provide you with educational resources and help you add healthy habits into your lifestyle.

There are also general health and wellness guidelines that can help you manage your condition. These guidelines include:

  • exercising regularly,
  • choosing heart-healthy foods and
  • staying hydrated.

Need support or have questions?

If you have questions for a clinician or Personal Health Assistant—including questions about covered health services, referrals or prior authorizations—please contact BCBSTX toll-free at (800) 252-8039 (TTY: 711), Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. CT, and Saturday, 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. CT.