US Army Soldiers: Sickle Cell Trait & the Risk of Exertional Rhabdomyolysis

Research Paper Title

Sickle Cell Trait and Rhabdomyolysis among U.S. Army Soldiers.


Studies have suggested that sickle cell trait elevates the risks of exertional rhabdomyolysis and death. We conducted a study of sickle cell trait in relation to these outcomes, controlling for known risk factors for exertional rhabdomyolysis, in a large population of active persons who had undergone laboratory tests for haemoglobin AS (HbAS) and who were subject to exertional-injury precautions.


The researchers used Cox proportional-hazards models to test whether the risks of exertional rhabdomyolysis and death varied according to sickle cell trait status among 47,944 black soldiers who had undergone testing for HbAS and who were on active duty in the US Army between January 2011 and December 2014. They used the Stanford Military Data Repository, which contains comprehensive medical and administrative data on all active-duty soldiers.


There was no significant difference in the risk of death among soldiers with sickle cell trait, as compared with those without the trait (hazard ratio, 0.99; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.46 to 2.13; P=0.97), but the trait was associated with a significantly higher adjusted risk of exertional rhabdomyolysis (hazard ratio, 1.54; 95% CI, 1.12 to 2.12; P=0.008).

This effect was similar in magnitude to that associated with tobacco use, as compared with no use (hazard ratio, 1.54; 95% CI, 1.23 to 1.94; P<0.001), and to that associated with having a body-mass index (BMI; the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters) of 30.0 or more, as compared with a BMI of less than 25.0 (hazard ratio, 1.39; 95% CI, 1.04 to 1.86; P=0.03).

The effect was less than that associated with recent use of a statin, as compared with no use (hazard ratio, 2.89; 95% CI, 1.51 to 5.55; P=0.001), or an antipsychotic agent (hazard ratio, 3.02; 95% CI, 1.34 to 6.82; P=0.008).


Sickle cell trait was not associated with a higher risk of death than absence of the trait, but it was associated with a significantly higher risk of exertional rhabdomyolysis.


Nelson, D.A., Deuster, P.A., Carter, P., Owen, T.H., Woolcott, V.L. & Kurina, L.M. (2016) Sickle Cell Trait and Rhabdomyolysis among U.S. Army Soldiers. The New England Journal of Medicine. 375(17), pp.435-442. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1516257.


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