Is a Hemoglobin Electrophoresis Test?
A hemoglobin electrophoresis test is a blood test used to measure
and identify the different types of hemoglobin in your bloodstream. Hemoglobin
is the protein inside red blood cells responsible for transporting oxygen
throughout your circulatory system to your tissues and organs.
If your hemoglobin is healthy, it will transport and release
oxygen with maximum efficiency. If it’s abnormal in some way, it may cause too
little oxygen to reach your tissues and organs.
The types of hemoglobin include the following:
F: This type is found in growing fetuses and newborns. Soon after birth, it’s
replaced with hemoglobin A.
A: This is the most common type of hemoglobin found in healthy children and
C, D, E, M, and S: These (and many other, rarer variations) are types of
Purpose of Testing
You acquire different abnormal types of hemoglobin by inheriting
the genes that produce them. Your doctor may recommend a hemoglobin electrophoresis
test to determine if you have a disease that causes the production of abnormal
hemoglobin, such as the following.
Sickle Cell Anemia
This disorder is caused by hemoglobin S. Red blood cells become
hard and crescent-shaped. They block small blood vessels and prevent blood from
These genetic disorders can cause the production of too much
abnormal hemoglobin and too little hemoglobin A.
Your doctor may also want to test your child if you have a family
history of abnormal hemoglobin or they have anemia that’s not caused by an iron
and How the Test Is Administered
No special preparations are required for this test.
Your doctor will need to take a sample of blood from your arm or
hand. They’ll clean the site with a swab of rubbing alcohol. Then they’ll
insert a small needle with a tube attached to collect the blood. When enough
blood has been drawn, they’ll remove the needle and cover the site with a gauze
pad. They’ll send your blood sample to a laboratory for analysis.
In the laboratory, a process called electrophoresis passes an
electrical current through the hemoglobin in your blood sample. This causes the
different types of hemoglobin to separate into different bands. Your blood
sample is then compared to a healthy sample to determine which types of
hemoglobin are present.
The following are healthy levels of hemoglobin in infants and
F (newborn): 50 to 80 percent
F (6 months): 8 percent
F (6 months+): 0.8 to 2 percent
The following are healthy levels of hemoglobin in adults.
A: 95 to 98 percent
A2: 2 to 3 percent
F: 0.8 to 2 percent
S: 0 percent
C: 0 percent
If your results show abnormal hemoglobin levels, they may be
- hemoglobin C disease (a genetic disorder that
leads to severe anemia)
- rare hemoglobinopathy (a group of genetic
disorders causing the abnormal production or structure of red blood cells)
- sickle cell anemia
Are the Risks of the Test?
As with any blood test, there are minimal risks of bruising,
bleeding, or infection at the puncture site. In rare cases, the vein may swell
after blood is drawn. This condition, known as phlebitis, can be treated with a
warm compress several times a day. Ongoing bleeding could be a problem if you have
a bleeding disorder or are taking blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin (Coumadin)
to Expect After the Test
If you have abnormal hemoglobin levels, treatment will depend on
the underlying disorder. Hemoglobin C disease is usually treated with folic
acid supplements to help your body produce red blood cells normally. Sickle
cell anemia may be treatable with a bone marrow transplant. Otherwise, your
doctor will help you manage the disorder by preventing health crises.
If you have thalassemia, your doctor’s recommended treatment will
depend on the nature and severity of the disorder.