What is a Red Blood Cell Count

To determine the amount of red blood cells your blood contains, an RBC or red blood cell count is done.

A red blood cell count is a test conducted to determine the specific number of erythrocytes, or red blood cells found in a blood sample taken from an individual. The test can also be used to evaluate the size and shape of red blood cells. The results of the test are used to compute the amount of red blood cells found for each microliter of blood.

Red blood cells contain a protein called hemoglobin that carries to the body tissues. The amount of oxygen received by the body tissues depends on a person’s red blood cell count. For a person to stay healthy, the RBC should stay within the required values.

RBC or red blood cell count values differ depending on the sex and age of the person tested. For women, the RBC count per microliter of blood can range from 4.2-5.0 million, while for men the range would be 4.6-6.0 million. While in children, the red blood cell count considered normal is from 3.8 to 5.5 million red blood cells per volume.

An RBC test is important to determine the state of a person’s health. A person with a low RBC may mean he is anemic or has chronic or acute blood loss. He may also be malnourished, have a chronic inflammation, or may have a nutritional copper, iron, vitamin B-6 or vitamin B-12 deficiency. If the RBC count is too high, the person may have polycythemia, or indicate a pulmonary fibrosis, congenital heart disease, or possible renal problems.

Depending on the person’s lifestyle, red blood cells can increase naturally. If the person lives at a high altitude their RBC tends to be higher. The RBC of smokers is usually also higher than that of non-smokers.

An RBC count is usually part of a CBC test or complete blood count to determine a patient’s white blood cell, red blood cell, and platelet count. An RBC count is also usually required in routine physical checkups and in pre-surgical procedures. If a patient has a hematological disorder, chronic anemia, or has chronic bleeding problems, their red blood cell count is taken more often to track any significant decrease or increase in their red blood cell count.

To perform the test, blood needs to be drawn from a person’s vein, usually from the back of the hand or the inside part of the elbow.
The spot where the needle will be inserted is cleaned with an antiseptic. To make the vein swell and add pressure to the area, an elastic band is tied around the patient’s upper arm.

A needle connected to a vial or tube is then inserted into the vein. The blood is then collected into the airtight vial or tube, and the elastic band is loosened.

Once the needed amount of sample blood has been extracted, the needle is taken out, and the puncture hole is covered with cotton to stop the bleeding.

In young children, especially infants, a lancet is usually used to prick the skin and collect the blood in a pipette, test strip or a slide.

An RBC count is not risky. The common concerns may just include having a light-headed feeling after the testing, some may feel like fainting, or there may be difficulty in locating a good vein so the person may have multiple puncture wounds before the test is completed. 


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