Health Watch -- Planning for Parenthood

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Add one more item to the list of things to do if you're thinking about becoming a parent.

When you're planning a family, you may think about finances, childcare, getting a larger home, possible names and college funds. But doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say you should add one more item to that list: a blood test.

A simple blood test can determine if you carry the trait for sickle cell disease. This incurable genetic disorder affects about 70,000 people in the United States and is most common in African Americans and people of Hispanic descent. It can cause pain, anemia, organ damage and strokes.

Dr. Charles Quinn, a UT Southwestern pediatrician, says that the test is important because it helps potential parents make decisions and plans. The test results give parents knowledge that can prepare them for what lies ahead so they can plan for possibilities.

If both parents carry the trait, there's a 25 percent chance their child will be born with the disease, so even a positive test doesn't necessarily mean that the disease is inevitable. Your doctor or a genetic counselor can help you make decisions about parenthood and can help you prepare for the possibility that your child will be born with the disease.

While the disease isn't curable at this time, there are treatments to help manage it.