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A low red blood cell count indicates that the number of red blood cells in the body has dropped below the normal levels. A low red blood cell count is a dangerous condition as it weakens the body’s defense system, thereby making it increasingly vulnerable to infections and diseases.

The red blood cells perform the important function of supplying oxygen to different tissues of the body. They are also known as red blood corpuscles or erythrocytes, and travel in the bloodstream via the circulatory system. The manufacture of red blood cells is controlled by a hormone called erythropoietin. The red blood cells get their name from an important component called hemoglobin, which give the red blood cells their red color and also act as oxygen carriers. They occur across the body in plentiful quantities and usually form around 45 % of the blood.

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The red blood cells are circular, biconcave and flattened along with the ability to alter shapes so as to enable them to squeeze through the tiny capillaries. The do not have the cell nucleus as well as most organelles. A low red blood cell count is considered as harmful for the body, due to the fact that they act as suppliers of oxygen to different parts of the body.

Normal red blood cell count

The normal red blood cell count in adult men ranges from 4.2 to 5.72 million red blood cells/micro-liter of blood; in adult women it ranges from 4.2 to 5.0 while in children it ranges from 3.5 to 5.5. It is important to know that the number may differ as per the recommendations of the testing lab as well as the age of the person who is getting tested.

Symptoms of low red blood cell count

Some of the signs and symptoms that may indicate a low red blood cell count are as follows:

  • Affected individuals may feel fatigued and weak due to decreased amount of oxygen supply to the various tissues and organs of the body
  • Diminished supply of oxygen to the brain can result in lightheadedness and dizziness. It can also lead to decreased ability to concentrate.
  • Lack of hemoglobin content can cause pale skin, eyes and nails
  • Decreased supply of oxygen to the heart can cause pain in the chest.
  • Other possible symptoms include feeling cold, shortness of breath, numbness in the feet or hands, and headaches, etc.

Low Red Cell Blood Count Causes

Some of the causes of low red blood cell count are listed below:

  • Anemia is a disorder wherein the count of red blood cells is below the normal levels, or the amount of hemoglobin in the blood is lower than normal levels. This leads to a decreased ability of blood to carry oxygen. Anemia can be caused due to heavy menstrual bleeding or poor nutrition. Some forms of anemia include aplastic anemia and sickle cell anemia.
  • Cancer that affects the lymphatic system is called Hodgkin’s disease. The condition affects the spleen, lymph nodes, bone marrow and liver. Since these organs play an important role in the regulation of normal red blood cell count, any problems of the organs can cause low red blood cell count.
  • The spleen performs the function maintaining the balance of body fluids and also in fighting off infections. The reticuloendothelial tissue which is a part of the spleen regulates the health of the red blood cells by removing damaged, abnormal and old RBCs that may obstruct its functions. An abnormality of the spleen can obstruct the function of this tissue, eventually leading to low red blood cell count.
  • Almost all autoimmune system disorders result in mistaken attack of the body’s tissues and blood cells by the immune system. The presence of systemic lupus erythematosus, autoimmune hemolytic anemia, pernicious anemia and other autoimmune disorders that damage the blood vessels and blood, can result in low red blood cell count
  • Cancer of the blood cells that damages the bone marrow is known as leukemia. Most of the blood cells are produced by the bone marrow. Leukemia causes a low red blood cell count by affecting the white blood cells, leading to their abnormal multiplication, which eventually results in crowding out of other blood cells, which include red blood cells.
  • Pancytopenia, which is condition that decreases the count of platelets, white and red blood cells; myelosuppression, which is a condition affecting the ability of the bone marrow to produce red blood cells; chemotherapy treatments; pregnancy and neurological disorders like multiple myeloma are other causes of low red blood cell count.

Treatment of low red blood cell count

Low red blood cell count can be diagnosed by a blood test at a laboratory. Once the cause of the condition is determined, the doctor will prescribe the necessary steps to raise the levels of red blood cells in the blood.

  • Various infections and diseases causing low red blood cell count can be treated with medications.
  • Damaged bone marrow can be treated via chemotherapy and medications.
  • Iron supplements can raise the RBC count. Nutritional deficiencies can be corrected via intake of vitamins, supplements and injections, etc.
  • A blood transfusion may also be done to increase the red blood cell count
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