Hemoglobin electrophoresis is the process healthcare providers use to analyze hemoglobin in your red blood cells. Hemoglobin electrophoresis helps diagnose serious conditions like sickle cell anemia. It’s also one of several tests that screen newborn babies for sickle cell anemia and other rare but serious illnesses.
Hemoglobin electrophoresis (pronounced he-ma-glow-bin elek-tro-fo-re-sus) is one process that healthcare providers use to analyze hemoglobin in your red blood cells.
Hemoglobin is a protein in your red blood cells that helps cells carry oxygen throughout your body. Sometimes, the gene controlling your hemoglobin changes or mutates, turning healthy red blood cells into damaged cells. These damaged cells can break down and cause anemia and other blood disorders like sickle cell anemia or thalassemias.
Hemoglobin electrophoresis helps healthcare providers diagnose those conditions. This test is also one of several tests that screen newborn babies for signs of sickle cell anemia and other rare but serious illnesses.
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A hemoglobin test measures the amount of hemoglobin in your red blood cells. Hemoglobin electrophoresis analyzes the different types of hemoglobin in your red blood cells.
Healthcare providers typically test for the four common hemoglobin types:
This test is based on blood samples. Typically, healthcare providers obtain blood samples by drawing blood from a vein in your arm or hand. They may use finger stick devices or heel sticks to get blood from your child or newborn baby. Here is information about ways providers obtain blood samples.
Hemoglobin electrophoresis uses electrical charges to separate hemoglobin types so healthcare providers can compare the level of each type with normal levels. The major hemoglobin types have different electrical charges. Here’s the typical test procedure:
Isoelectric focusing (IEF) is another technique for identifying abnormal hemoglobin. IEF and electrophoresis both use electric currents to separate hemoglobin types.
Processing the test may take about an hour, but it may be a few days before your healthcare provider receives and evaluates the test results.
There are ranges for each hemoglobin type. For example, if your hemoglobin Type F level is higher than normal, it could be a sign you have a form of thalassemia. But knowing test result numbers is just one part of any diagnosis. Your healthcare provider is your best resource for understanding your specific results.
If you had a hemoglobin electrophoresis test because you had certain symptoms, you should call your healthcare provider to review your results.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A hemoglobin electrophoresis test gives healthcare providers a snapshot of hemoglobin types. Hemoglobin type levels are a way of evaluating hemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells. An abnormal change in your hemoglobin type levels may be a sign you have a medical condition. If your test results show you or your child may have a serious illness, it’s easy to focus on the snapshot. It can be harder to step back and look at the big picture, particularly if the big picture focuses on the health and wellbeing of your child or your newborn baby. If you receive test results that make you feel anxious, your healthcare provider can provide more information. Understanding how a snapshot fits into your big picture may help.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/11/2022.
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