Humans are very complex organisms. We’re made up of trillions of cells, each with their own distinct role and structure. Out of these trillions of cells, red blood cells account for over 80%. Undoubtedly, red blood cells are essential for every living organism. From its name, you should know the red blood cells give blood its distinctive red color. Red blood cells also carry oxygen throughout your body and deliver it to tissues and organs. They also help to remove the toxic carbon (di) oxide from tissue cells.
What is the Normal Red Blood Cell (RBC) Count?
Your red blood cell count (RBC) is the number of red blood cells in your body. What Is low red blood cell count? To measure low red blood cell count, you should know what is the normal RBC count.
Typically, men have an RBC of 4.7 million to 6.1 million cells per microliter (MCL). Women have a slightly lower count of 4.2 million to 5.4 million cells/mcL, the values of a pregnant woman should be slightly lower. Children have an RBC of 4.0 million to 5.5 million cells per microliter (MCL). However, this number can vary between individuals depending on the age and the testing laboratory.
What Causes Low Red Blood Count?
According to new research, low red blood cell count (Anemia) count affects about 1/3rd of the world’s population. Sometimes, the number of red blood cells can drop lower than normal. When this happens, your organs, cells, and tissues won’t get adequate oxygen, and as a result, different conditions may start to arise.
While some of the effects of low red blood count or anemia may be mild and unnoticeable, having low red blood cells can also cause more severe health issues that could last a lifetime. Several factors can reduce the red blood cell count in the human body.
There are several factors that can cause anemia. The 3 leading causes of anemia include:
- Loss of blood: Menorrhagia, internal bleeding.
- Decreased red blood cell production: Cancer, chronic kidney diseases.
- Destruction of red blood cells: Sickle cell anemia, Porphyria.
In rare cases, some types of anemia are hereditary, and newborns have low red blood cell count right from birth.
Other causes of low red blood count include:
- Bone marrow complications
- Internal and external bleeding
- Poor diet, including deficiency of vitamin B12, folate, iron.
- Multiple myeloma
- Erythropoietin deficiency
Certain chemicals like chemotherapy drugs and chloramphenicol can also reduce the number of red blood cells in the body.
Types and Symptoms of Anemia(Low Red Blood Count)
Luckily, the human body has an impressive ability to suppress symptoms of early anemia, so if you have mild anemia, you may not start noticing symptoms immediately. However, as the anemia starts to worsen, so do the symptoms.
There are over 400 types of anemia, each with different causes. While certain types of anemia may have temporary symptoms like headaches, other types can have more permanent symptoms like dementia.
General symptoms of anemia include:
- Fatigue and Weakness
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- Fast and irregular heartbeat
- Pain in joints, and bones
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Pale and yellow skin
- Pale gums
Symptoms of Anemia Caused by Iron Deficiency
- Pica (eating unusual substances like paint, dirt or paper)
- Sore mouth
- Breaks at the corners of the mouth
- Koilonychias (A condition when the fingers curve upwards)
Symptoms of Anemia Caused by Vitamin B12 Deficiency
- Difficulty walking
- Lost sense of touch
- Stiff arms and legs
- Tingling sensation in the hands and feet
Symptoms of Anemia Caused by Destruction of Red blood cells
- Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
- Death in infants
- Passing of brown or red urine
- Sores in the leg
- Symptoms of gallstones
Symptoms of Sickle Cell Anemia
- Susceptibility to infection
- Poor development in children
- Pain in the joints and limbs
Symptoms of Anemia Caused by Destruction of Red Blood Cells
Who Can Get Anemia?
Sadly, anemia can affect anyone. However, women and people with chronic, underlying diseases are more susceptible to anemia. For example, during pregnancy, your body requires a substantial amount of red blood cells, which can lead to low red blood cell count, especially since the production of red blood cells can’t match the demand.
Additionally, during menstruation, your body also loses a lot of blood, and this can put you at a higher risk of iron-deficiency anemia.
What Tests can You do for Low RBC Count?
If you start noticing symptoms of anemia, then you need to see your doctor. Your doctor will carry out blood tests and check for signs of anemia. Before the test, I suggest you explain your symptoms as accurately as you can, state your dieting patterns, and family medical history. Tell your doctor if you are receiving medications from another condition and the drugs you’re taking.
Tests for low red blood count include:
Hemoglobin test: The hemoglobin test determines how much oxygen your red blood cells can carry. The average hemoglobin level is between 12 and 16.
Hematocrit Test: The hematocrit shows the volume of red blood cells in the blood. The normal hematocrit is between 36 and 50.
How to Deal With Low Red Blood Cell Count (Anemia)
Just as there are different factors that can trigger anemia, there are also different treatments for the various forms of anemia. While a particular treatment can work for a type of anemia, it may not be effective against a different kind of anemia. – Or worse, it can cause more damage. In most cases, your doctor won’t treat your anemia until he finds the primary cause of your anemia.
1. Treatment For Low RBC Count Caused by Iron Deficiency
When you don’t have enough iron in your blood, your body won’t be able to produce an adequate amount of red blood cells.
How to treat your iron deficiency anemia depend on its severity. Your doctor may recommend iron supplements, and dietary changes, or red blood transfusion if your condition is severe.
Top tip: Taking in excess iron can also be dangerous. If you take too much iron, you may experience headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue. If you start feeling these side effects, I recommend taking your iron supplements between meals. Your doctor may also suggest meals rich in iron.
2. Treatment For Low RBC Count Caused by Sudden Blood Loss
During pregnancy or external bleeding, you can lose a lot of blood. If your red blood cell count drops below the normal range, you need to recover the lost red blood cells. Your doctor may suggest a blood transfusion or treat you with fluids.
Top tip: If the blood loss is minimal, you can also stick with the treatment for iron-deficiency anemia.
3. Treatment For Low RBC Count caused by the deficiency of Vitamin B12 and Folate
Unfortunately, anemia caused by the deficiency of Vitamin B12 and Folate can be difficult to differentiate, especially since they have very similar symptoms.
If your vitamin B12 level is low, your red blood cells won’t have the same shape as a healthy red blood cell. They’ll appear bigger and irregularly shaped.
As you age, your body loses the ability to retain Vitamins B12 properly, especially if you’re a vegan.
Once you detect a deficiency in vitamin B12, your doctor will put you on vitamin B12 injections. If you’re not a fan of needles, and you prefer taking medications orally, you can also take Vitamin B12 as tablets. However, you’ll need to take them in very high dosages.
On some rare occasions, some people may not be able to absorb vitamin B12 into their bodies. In such situations, the patient may have to stay on Vitamin B12 medications for life.
Top tip: You can choose to take it daily as oral tablets or go for injections every 3 months. Once you start taking adequate doses of vitamin B12, the symptoms of low red blood count will improve drastically. Alternatively, you can boost the vitamin B12 level in your body by eating diets that contain fish, meat, milk, eggs, and cheese.
4. Treatment For Low RBC Count Caused by Folate Deficiency
The body needs folate to produce healthy red blood cells, and when you don’t have enough folate, your red blood cells don’t live as long as they can. Once your doctor diagnoses folic acid deficiency as the cause of your anemia, he will most likely recommend folic acid supplements.
Top tip: I recommend you eat a lot of foods rich in folate. Examples of folate-rich sources include fresh fruits, vegetables, milk, and whole-grain cereals.
5. Treatment for Anemia Caused by Bone Marrow complications
Anemia caused by a fault in the bone marrow is by far one of the hardest types of anemia to treat. Luckily, some anemias go away without needing treatment.
However, the more persistent anemias will require repeated transfusions, and in extreme cases, bone marrow transplantation.
6. Treatment For Low RBC Count caused by underlying chronic disease
When your red blood cells start decreasing due to an underlying disease, the best option is to treat chronic illness. Chances are, as the symptoms of the disease improve, your anemia will improve too. To boost the number of your red blood cells, your doctor may administer Erythropoietin, a hormone that triggers the production of healthy red blood cells.
Improve Your Red Blood Cell Count with Lifestyle changes
Ultimately, you are what you eat. Changing your lifestyle and making healthy diet choices can make a tremendous difference in improving your RBC count.
1. Add Iron-Rich Foods to your diet
Iron is crucial in the production of healthy red blood cells.
Eating iron-rich foods helps to fortify the level of iron in your red blood cell. Sources of iron-rich food include red meat, beans, legumes, and green vegetables.
Top tip: When you’re taking iron supplements, I recommend you take it with Vitamin C. Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron.
2. Eating food rich in folic acid
Your body needs folic acid to produce healthy red blood cells. You can boost your folic acid content by eating beans, cereals, peas, and green leafy vegetables.
3. Eat copper-rich foods
When you’re always feeling tired and weak, chances are your body doesn’t have enough copper. Additionally, copper also increases the rate of iron absorption. Eating copper-rich foods like whole grains, nuts, beans, and chocolate can improve your red blood cell count.
4. Eat more Vitamin A
Although Vitamin A deficiency can also cause anemia, there’s still little evidence on how it really affects our health. Contrary to popular belief, Vitamin A also helps to reduce anemia, and increase red blood cells. Excellent sources of vitamin A include sweet potatoes, carrots, watermelon, red pepper, and dark green leafy vegetables.
5. Drink Water
Anemia often comes with uncomfortable dehydration. Drinking at least 8-10 glasses of water daily helps your body stay hydrated.
Top tip: Fortifying your drinking water with iron supplements will also help prevent and treat iron-deficiency anemia.
6. Lifestyle changes
Making gradual lifestyle changes can help you manage and prevent anemia. Here are some lifestyle changes we recommend. Maintain a healthy sleep schedule, make sure you don’t stay in bed for too long, though.
Exercise doesn’t only help you improve your health, it can be of immense benefit if you’re dealing with anemia. When you exercise, your body tells your brain it needs more oxygen, and in turn, your body produces more red blood cells.
Top tip: Ensure you don’t overexert yourself when you exercise, when you’re feeling dizzy, lie down, and rest.
If you have a low red blood count, you don’t have to worry. The good news is, most types of anemia are curable. In most cases, once you treat the primary cause of anemia, your red blood cell count will improve. Make sure you get RBC tests and keep track of any progress you make.