Red blood cells play a vital role in the body. It carries oxygen from the lungs to each and every cell of the tissue, besides removing carbon dioxide from the body. Red blood cells circulate in the blood stream and they are manufactured in the bone marrow of long bones. They usually live for 120 days and they die thereafter.
Hemoglobin is an iron containing protein present in red blood cells which is responsible for carrying oxygen. It is responsible for giving red color to the blood. Red blood cells are also known as RBC or erythrocytes. The normal range of red blood cells in men is 5 to 6 million erythrocytes per cubic millimeter, whereas in women it is 4 to 5 million per cubic millimeter.
An increase in red cell count is called erythrocytosis. High red blood cell level can lead to many problems in a long run. Below are given important causes for raised red blood cell level in the blood.
What Causes High Red Blood Cell Count?
An increase in red blood cell count can occur due to:
- Erythrocytosis is common among people living at high altitudes.
- In the event of poor heart or lung function, the oxygen carrying capacity decreases. This triggers the inner mechanism to produce more red blood cells.
- When the bone marrow starts producing more red blood cells due to unknown cause.
- Dehydration where there is loss of sodium and fluids.
- People suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- Renal transplant or renal tumors.
- Smoking also increases red blood cells as it affects the arteries.
- People using anabolic steroids are known to have erythrocytosis as these types of steroids stimulate red blood cell production.
- Polycythemia vera.
Side Effects Of Increased Red Blood Cells
Polycythemia vera is a blood disorder characterized by increase in red blood cell. This condition also produces excessive amount of other cells like white blood cells and platelets. However it is increase in red blood cells which makes the blood thick and cause several health problems. Increase in RBC produces hyperviscocity, which in turn impairs tissue oxygen delivery and causes vascular occlusion.
The condition usually develops in adults above the age of 50. It rarely occurs among people below the age of 20. The disorder is gradual in onset and many times it remains undetected till it is found on blood tests done for some other reasons. The symptoms of polycythemia vera are insidious and varying. Here are some of the predominant symptoms such as:
- Headache, vertigo, tinnitus (sound in ear), visual problems.
- Angina pectoris (chest pain due to coronary artery disease).
- Bleeding from nose and gums.
- Joint pains due to raised uric acid.
- Itching exacerbated by hot or warm bath.
- Skin becomes red
- Tingling numbness
- Enlarged spleen
How To Decrease Red Blood Cell Count?
The therapy to reduce red blood cells is individualized. It may be depend on the underlying factor which is triggering elevated level of red blood cell in circulating blood.
Cease smoking if that is the cause. The aim is to increase the oxygen carrying capacity of blood. Smoking causes narrowing of arteries which dampens the oxygen carrying capacity in the blood. Addressing heart and kidney ailments will automatically help to reduce red blood cells which are in excess.
Polycythemia vera is not curable. The factors influencing treatment are age and gender of the patient. The treatment of choice is phlebotomy. It is the procedure in which blood is removed in the same way as you donate blood. Usually one bottle (450ml) of blood is let out in a week and it is tapered as the red blood cell count returns to normal level.
Sometimes doctors recommend drugs to suppress production of blood cells, especially the platelets in blood which are known to clot the blood. In any case the aim is to maintain the hematocrit level at 42 to 46%.