Exertional Rhabdomyolysis and Sickle Cell Trait Status in the U.S. Air Force, January 2009-December 2018

MSMR. 2021 Jan;28(1):15-19.


Sickle cell trait (SCT) is associated with incident exertional rhabdomyolysis, but its effect on disease progression and severity is poorly understood. Of 377 exertional rhabdomyolysis cases diagnosed between 2009 and 2018 in the active component of the U.S. Air Force, 200 had records available for chart review, and 185 of these had known SCT status. Pre- and post-event data were stratified by SCT status, and serum chemistry changes among SCT-positive (n=11) and SCT-negative (n=174) airmen were compared using Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney tests. Of the 200 cases with records available for chart review, 110 (55.0%) were hospitalized; 98 (56.3%) of the 174 who were SCT-negative were hospitalized. Also hospitalized were 4 (36.4%) of the 11 who were SCT-positive, and 8 (53.3%) of the 15 with unknown SCT status. Of the 7 airmen who were admitted to intensive care, 4 required hemodialysis, and 1 underwent a fasciotomy; all 7 were SCT-negative. Alterations in creatine kinase, potassium, creatinine, troponin I, and hemoglobin were statistically equivalent between those with and without SCT. Providers should maintain a high index of suspicion for exertional rhabdomyolysis, especially in warm climates and in the context of high-intensity activities, but should not presume that the presence of SCT portends a higher risk of complications or worse clinical outcomes.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Military Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / genetics
  • Population Surveillance*
  • Rhabdomyolysis / epidemiology*
  • Rhabdomyolysis / genetics
  • Sickle Cell Trait / complications
  • Sickle Cell Trait / epidemiology*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult