Our body consists of an iron-containing protein or a respiratory pigment found in red blood cells known as haemoglobin. The main function of this protein is to carry oxygen from the lungs to the cells of our body. Sometimes, the gene controlling haemoglobin mutates which can turn healthy red blood cells into damaged ones. This mutation results in these cells breaking down and causing chronic blood disorders such as iron deficiency anaemia, sickle cell anaemia, and thalassemia. To rule out such anomalies, healthcare providers use a process called haemoglobin electrophoresis. Haemoglobin electrophoresis looks for abnormal types of haemoglobin levels, since seventy percent of your body's iron is found in the red blood cells and in muscle cells called myoglobin. Often also performed as part of new-born screening tests, this procedure is based on the separation of haemoglobin molecules in an electric field because of differences in molecular charge. This technique helps to diagnose serious conditions like sickle cell anaemia, sickle cell disease, and other haemoglobin disorders.
Different Haemoglobin Types?
Healthcare providers test for four common haemoglobin types found in the body:
Haemoglobin Types A11 and A2
While haemoglobin A11 accounts for most of the haemoglobin in your RBC, haemoglobin A2 accounts for about three to four per cent of your total haemoglobin.
Haemoglobin Type F
Normally, this haemoglobin type accounts for the largest part of red blood cells in foetuses, infants, and children up to age three years of age. If the level of this haemoglobin is in the high range, it is considered an abnormal level and could be a possible sign that you have a form of thalassemia.
Haemoglobin Type S
This haemoglobin type is a symptom of sickle cell anaemia that can lead to sickle cell disease. A group of inherited disorders that affects the shape of red blood cells, it causes pain, infection, acute coronary syndrome, and stroke.
This is linked to haemolytic anaemia which develops when RBCs start to destroy themselves more easily than normal red blood cells. This disease is caused by a problem with a gene called beta-globin and primarily occurs in African Americans.
How Does Haemoglobin Electrophoresis Work?
This test is done by collecting blood samples in the following manner:
Venous Blood Draw: The healthcare provider draws the blood from the veins. There is mild pain or discomfort when the healthcare provider inserts the needle. There is also a possibility of slight bruising for a few days after the test.
Finger Stick: To get the blood sample, the healthcare provider pricks the fingertip and stores the sample on a specially designed vial.
Heel Stick: This method is for health screenings of newborn babies and is supposed to be done within 48 hours after the baby is born. By pricking the infant’s heel with a needle to obtain a few drops of blood, doctors place the baby’s blood sample on a strip of paper and check potentially troubling conditions that may be fatal to his life. Potential life-threatening haemoglobin variants are scrutinised to look for chronic blood-related ailments.
Analysing Blood Samples And Results
Haemoglobin electrophoresis uses electrical charges to separate haemoglobin types so that a comparison of abnormal levels can be done with normal levels. The major haemoglobin types have different electrical charges. By placing the sample strip with the sample into the electrophoresis chamber (a machine that passes electrical currents through the sample), Haemoglobin types react to the electric current, moving away from each other. Thereupon the haemoglobin types appear in different coloured bands. Haemoglobin type levels that are too high or too low may be signs of a blood disorder. Other than this, Isoelectric focusing is another popular technique to identify abnormal haemoglobin. Processing these tests may take from a few hours to a few days before the test results can be further evaluated.