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If you are a male and your RBC is in between 13.5-17.5 g/dL , or if you are a female and your RBC is in between 11.5-15.5 g/dL then you need not worry as they are in the normal ranges.
But if your RBC is lesser or greater than the above values, then there may be some problem in your body.
- Normal range of RBC found among men : 13.5-17.5 g/dL
- Normal range of RBC found among women : 11.5-15.5 g/dL
- For children, 11-13.5 g/dL
The primary function of the red blood cell is to transport oxygen to all parts of the body. Inflammation and nutrient deficiencies can reduce red blood cell numbers or their ability to effectively deliver oxygen. This condition is called anemia. However, having a high red blood cell count can also have a similar oxygen-depleting effect.
What are Red Blood Cells (RBCs)?
Over 99% of the particles in the blood are cells called red blood cells (RBCs), or erythrocytes, due to their red color. Red blood cells look like a disc with indentations in the middle so they can bend easily to squeeze through narrow blood vessels.
Each red blood cell contains the protein hemoglobin, which transports oxygen.
In tiny blood vessels in the lungs, RBCs pick up oxygen from inhaled air and transport it through the bloodstream to all parts of the body.
Our cells need oxygen to function and make energy. At the same time, carbon dioxide is released as a waste product from the breakdown of carbohydrates and fats for energy. The RBCs pick up the carbon dioxide and transport it back to the lungs. There we exhale it when we breathe out.
Aside from oxygen and carbon dioxide, RBCs can also pick up or release hydrogen ions and nitric oxide .
By picking up or releasing hydrogen ions, they help keep the pH level (acid/base balance) of the blood steady .
When RBCs release nitric oxide, nitric oxide can cause the blood vessels to expand, which leads to a drop in blood pressure .
Why is my RBC high or low?
The RBC results are interpreted along with the results for hemoglobin, hematocrit (PCV), MCV and RDW to help diagnose disease severity. So let's know about all these tests and let's try to know the real cause of your disease.
After reading this article thoroughly you will be able to self-diagnose your disease
Before understanding Hemoglobin, Hematocrit (PCV) and RBC, let us know about some of the causes of abnormal blood cells.
Low hemoglobin + Low RBC count + Low hematocrit can be caused by:
- Bone marrow damage
- Destruction of red blood cells
- Chronic inflammatory diseases
- Chronic bleeding from sites such as the digestive tract (e.g., ulcers, polyps, colon cancer)
- Iron, folate or B12 deficiency
- Bone marrow disorders such as aplastic anemia, myelodysplastic syndrome, or cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma
- Kidney failure
High hemoglobin + High RBC count + High hematocrit can be caused by:
- Congenital heart disease
- Lung disease
- Kidney tumors that produce excess erythropoietin
- Polycythemia vera
- Genetic causes
- Living at high altitudes
Let's know about these blood tests:
A healthy individual human has 12 to 20 grams of hemoglobin in every 100 mL of blood.
The hemoglobin test measures the amount of hemoglobin your sample of blood. A hemoglobin level can be performed alone or with a hematocrit, a test that measures the proportion of blood that is made up of RBCs, to evaluate your red blood cells.
Hemoglobin deficiency can be caused either by a decreased amount of hemoglobin molecules, as in anemia, or by decreased ability of each molecule to bind oxygen at the same partial pressure of oxygen.
Other common causes of low hemoglobin include loss of blood, nutritional deficiency, bone marrow problems, kidney failure, or abnormal hemoglobin (such as that of sickle-cell disease).
Decrease of hemoglobin, with or without an absolute decrease of red blood cells, leads to symptoms of anemia.
Elevated levels of hemoglobin are associated with increased numbers or sizes of red blood cells, called polycythemia. This elevation may be caused by congenital heart disease, cor pulmonale, pulmonary fibrosis, too much erythropoietin, or polycythemia vera. High hemoglobin levels may also be caused by exposure to high altitudes, smoking, dehydration, advanced lung disease and certain tumors.
Hemoglobin is the iron-containing protein found in all red blood cells (RBCs) that gives the cells their characteristic red color. Hemoglobin enables RBCs to bind to oxygen in the lungs and carry it to tissues and organs throughout the body. It also helps transport a small portion of carbon dioxide, a product of cell metabolism, from tissues and organs to the lungs, where it is exhaled.
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RBC ~ Red Blood Cells :
Red blood cells (RBCs), also called erythrocytes, are cells that circulate in the blood and carry oxygen throughout the body.
Red blood cells, which make up about 40% (ranging 37-49%) of the blood's volume, are produced in the bone marrow and are released into the bloodstream when they are, or nearly are, mature. The typical lifespan of an RBC is 120 days, and the bone marrow must continually produce new RBCs to replace those that age and degrade or are lost through bleeding.
Changes in the RBC count usually mirror changes in other RBC tests, including the hematocrit and hemoglobin level.
If RBCs are lost or destroyed faster than they can be replaced, if bone marrow production is disrupted, or if the RBCs produced do not function normally, or do not contain enough hemoglobin, then you may develop anemia, which affects the amount of oxygen reaching tissues.
If too many RBCs are produced and released, then you can develop polycythemia. This can cause thicker blood, decreased blood flow and related problems, such as headache, dizziness, problems with vision, and even excessive clotting or heart attack.
A CBC (complete blood count) may also be performed on a regular basis to monitor people who have been diagnosed with conditions such as:
- Bone marrow disorders
- Kidney disease
- Bleeding problems
- Chronic anemia
- Cancer, as chemotherapy or radiation therapy often decreases bone marrow production of all the blood cells
- A rise or drop in the RBC count must be interpreted in conjunction with other tests, such as hemoglobin, hematocrit, reticulocyte count, and/or red blood cell indices.
Causes of a low RBC count:
- Loss of blood
- Hemolytic anemia caused by autoimmunity or defects in the red cell itself
- Kidney failure
- Chronic inflammatory disease
- Sudden or chronic bleeding from the digestive tract (e.g., ulcers, polyps, colon cancer) or other sites
- Bone marrow damage
- Iron deficiency, vitamin B12 or folate deficiency
- Bone marrow disorders such as leukemia, multiple myeloma, myelodysplastic syndrome, or lymphoma or other cancers that spread to the bone marrow
Causes of a high RBC count:
- Lung disease
- Congenital heart disease
- Kidney tumor that produces excess erythropoietin
- Polycythemia vera
An RBC count can be used to detect a problem with red blood cell production and/or lifespan, but it cannot determine the underlying cause. In addition to the full CBC, some other tests may be performed at the same time or as follow up to help establish a diagnosis. Examples include:
- Blood smear
- Reticulocyte count
- Iron studies
- Vitamin B12 and folate levels
In more severe conditions, a bone marrow aspiration and biopsy
Red blood cells may be given as part of a blood transfusion. Blood may be donated from another person, or stored by the recipient at an earlier date. Donated blood usually requires screening to ensure that donors do not contain risk factors for the presence of blood-borne diseases, or will not suffer themselves by giving blood.
Many diseases involving red blood cells are diagnosed with a blood film (or peripheral blood smear), where a thin layer of blood is smeared on a microscope slide.
Hematocrit (also called PCV or Packed Cell Volume):
A hematocrit is a test that measures the proportion of your blood that is made up of red blood cells (RBCs).
It is normally 40.7–50.3% for males and 36.1–44.3% for females. There are other names for the hematocrit, such as packed cell volume (PCV), volume of packed red cells (VPRC), or erythrocyte volume fraction (EVF).
Blood consists of RBCs, white blood cells (WBCs), and platelets suspended in a fluid portion called plasma. The hematocrit is a ratio of the volume of red blood cells to the volume of all these components together, called whole blood. The value is expressed as a percentage or fraction. For example, a hematocrit value of 40% means that there are 40 milliliters of red blood cells in 100 milliliters of whole blood.
Hematocrit levels also serve as an indicator of health conditions. Thus, tests on hematocrit levels are often carried out in the process of diagnosis of such conditions, and may be conducted prior to surgery. Additionally, the health conditions associated with certain hematocrit levels are the same as ones associated with certain hemoglobin levels.
If the number and/or size of RBCs decreases, so will the hematocrit and vice versa. In general, the hematocrit will rise when the number of red blood cells increases and the hematocrit will fall to less than normal when there is a decrease in RBCs.
Hematocrit levels that are too high or too low can indicate a blood disorder, dehydration, or other medical conditions.
The hematocrit can indicate if there is a problem with RBCs, but it cannot determine the underlying cause. In addition to CBC, some other tests may also be needed to diagnose the problem. Some tests include : Reticulocyte count, iron studies, vitamin B12 and folate levels, and in more serious situations, bone marrow exams.
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Most common symptoms of low RBC:
Left untreated, low RBC can cause many health problems, such as:
Fatigue is a feeling of tiredness. It may be sudden or gradual in onset. A person with fatigue may find it physically hard to do the things they usually do, such as climbing the stairs. However, it may be a symptom of a medical condition if it is prolonged, severe, progressive, or occurs without provocation.
Fatigue is one of the symptoms of Low RBC levels. When a person has a lower RBC than is normal, their body has to work harder to get enough oxygen to the cells and this can cause fatigue and weakness. While it's normal to feel tired after a long day at work, when you're anemic, you feel weary after shorter and shorter periods of exertion as your body's cells become starved for oxygen.
Dizziness is an imprecise term that can refer to a sense of disorientation in space, vertigo, or lightheadedness.
It can also refer to disequilibrium or a non-specific feeling such as giddiness or foolishness. Anemia is a lack of healthy RBC or hemoglobin in your blood, which carry oxygen to your organs like your brain. The hallmark of anemia is tiredness, but it can also cause you to feel faint and dizzy.
Shortness of Breath
Anaemia makes you very tired and you may also become breathless because your blood is carrying less oxygen. Shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea is a feeling of not being able to breathe well enough. Dyspnea is a normal symptom of heavy exertion but becomes pathological if it occurs in unexpected situations, like when your RBC levels are low. Anemia that develops gradually usually presents with exertional dyspnea, fatigue, weakness, and tachycardia. It may lead to heart failure. Anaemia is often a cause of dyspnea.
Menstruation, particularly if excessive, can contribute to anaemia and to consequential dyspnea in women. Headaches are also a symptom of dyspnea in patients suffering from anaemia. Some patients report a numb sensation in their head, and others have reported blurred vision caused by hypotension behind the eye due to a lack of oxygen and pressure; these patients have also reported severe head pains, many of which lead to permanent brain damage.
Symptoms can include loss of concentration, focus, fatigue, language faculty impairment and memory loss
Palpitations are perceived abnormalities of the heartbeat characterized by awareness of cardiac muscle contractions in the chest, which is further characterized by the hard, fast and/or irregular beatings of the heart.
Symptoms include a rapid pulsation, an abnormally rapid or irregular beating of the heart. Palpitations are a sensory symptom and are often described as a skipped beat, rapid fluttering in the chest, pounding sensation in the chest or neck, or a flip-flopping in the chest.
Heart palpitations can be a sign that your body is attempting to compensate for its lack of energy. By circulating blood faster your body is trying to spread around the small amounts of available hemoglobin in order to deliver more oxygen.
Your heart needs oxygen to function. Without enough hemoglobin and oxygen, the heart tissue will behave as though you have impaired blood flow. Chest pain is pain or discomfort in the chest, typically the front of the chest. Chest pain may be described as sharp, dull, pressure, heaviness or squeezing.
Chest pain may present in different ways depending upon the underlying diagnosis, and low rbc is one of the causes of chest pain. In very severe anemia this can lead to a myocardial infarction or what is more commonly known as a heart attack.
Some other symptoms of low RBC are Weakness, Headache, Pain in your bones, Pain in your belly and Pain in your joints
Most common symptoms of high RBC :
- Joint swelling
- Body ache
- A purple or reddish tint to the skin
- Feeling exhausted
- Getting easily bruised
- Unusual sweating
- Abnormal weight loss
- A yellow tint to the eyes
If your RBC count is low.
Ways to Increase Red Blood Cell Level
If your RBC count is low, the most important thing is to work with your doctor to find out what’s causing your low RBC count and to treat any underlying conditions. While in some cases anemia can be treated with dietary changes and supplements, other cases may require blood transfusion, drugs that stimulate RBC production, or changing your medication.
The additional lifestyle changes listed below are other things you may want to discuss with your doctor. None of these strategies should ever be done in place of what your doctor recommends or prescribes!
Iron is necessary to make hemoglobin and red blood cells. We get our iron mostly from foods, including red meat, poultry, fish, beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, nuts, and seeds.
A deficiency in iron decreases red blood cell production.
If iron levels are low, this can often be corrected by making appropriate dietary changes or taking supplements. Furthermore, if your condition is serious, you doctor may prescribe iron therapy. Keep in mind that It may take several months of supplementation to correct iron deficiency.
However, iron deficiency may also have non-dietary causes, such as bleeding or gut issues (malabsorption), in which case it can’t be corrected solely by dietary adjustments.
Never take iron supplements without first clearing them with your doctor. Large amounts of iron can be harmful because they increase oxidative stress in the body.
2) Vitamins B12, B9 (Folate), and B6
All of these vitamins are needed for the production of red blood cells. When either of them is low, red blood cell count decreases and a person can develop anemia.
Deficiencies in these vitamins are much less common than iron deficiency.
Similarly to iron, they can be corrected by dietary adjustments, unless they have other underlying non-dietary causes.
Copper is another nutrient necessary for the production of RBCs.
As copper is needed in small amounts and widely available in food, copper deficiency is usually due to non-dietary causes.
4) Vitamin C
Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron. Therefore, if your iron is on the low side, eating iron-rich foods together with vitamin C sources can increase iron levels and can also boost red blood cell production.
Good sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, strawberries, cantaloupes, broccoli, peppers, and tomatoes.
You can sprinkle some lemon juice over your steaks and salads, for example, or drink orange juice with your iron-rich meals.
Note: If you’re taking medicines, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether you can eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice. This fruit can interact with a number of medicines.
5) Vitamin D
In a lot of cases, red blood cells are low due to long-term disease or inflammation. This is called “anemia of chronic disease”.
Studies suggest that vitamin D has an important role in lowering inflammation, but also that this vitamin gets depleted in chronic inflammation and disease. Early clinical trials have been promising, showing that vitamin D supplementation can help decrease inflammation and increase red blood cell levels in people with chronic diseases. However, further research is needed to establish the efficacy of vitamin D in this type of anemia beyond a doubt.
6) Avoiding Alcohol
Alcohol consumption decreases red blood cell production.
Exercising regularly can increase red blood cell levels and hemoglobin. That’s because when muscles work more, they need more energy and more oxygen. Moderate physical activity signals your body to increase red blood cell production in order to increase the oxygen supply to your muscles.
However, strenuous exercise can have the opposite effect. It can actually damage and destroy red blood cells. This is one of the reasons that endurance athletes often have anemia.
In many cases, there are drugs that can treat the underlying cause of anemia, and thereby increase red blood cell count. These include:
- Antibiotics to treat infections
- Hormones to treat heavy menstrual bleeding in teenage and adult women
- Medicines to prevent the body’s immune system from destroying its own RBCs (in autoimmune disease)
- Chelation therapy in cases of heavy metal toxicity
- There is also a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO), that is made in the kidneys and stimulates red blood cell production (erythropoiesis).
EPO can also be used as a therapeutic agent for the treatment of anemia associated with various conditions such as kidney disease, chemotherapy, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), autoimmune disease, HIV, RBC disorders, and blood loss following surgery or trauma.
9) Blood Transfusions
This is a common procedure in which blood is given intravenously, often when there is a significant loss of blood due to injury or surgery. Transfusions require careful matching of donated blood with the recipient’s blood.
10) Blood and Marrow Stem Cell Transplant
A blood and marrow stem cell transplant replaces faulty stem cells with healthy ones from another person (a donor). Once the stem cells are in the body, they travel to the bone marrow which can begin making new blood cells.
Ways to Decrease RBC Levels if Your RBC Count is High
The most important thing is to work with a doctor to find out what’s causing a high RBC count and to treat any underlying conditions. The additional lifestyle changes listed below are other things you may want to discuss with your doctor. None of these strategies should ever be done in place of what your doctor recommends or prescribes!
1) Quitting Smoking
Smoking increases your red blood cell count. Quitting can help decrease it.
2) Strenuous Exercise
In people who have a tendency for slightly elevated red blood cell levels, strenuous/endurance exercise may help decrease them.
But remember, if you’re unsure of your health, have existing medical conditions, or are pregnant, you should always speak with your doctor before starting a new exercise program!
3) Phlebotomy or Blood Draw
This is a procedure that removes a certain amount of blood from the body. The process is similar to the process of donating blood. It reduces red blood cell count and brings the blood density closer to normal. It’s usually used in certain conditions in which there is abnormally high production of red blood cells, such as polycythemia vera or sickle cell disease.
In certain cases, a doctor may prescribe drugs can be used to increase red blood cell loss (aspirin) or to prevent the bone marrow from making too many RBCs (hydroxyurea and interferon-alpha).
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