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What Does a Low Red Blood Cell Count Indicate?

A low red blood cell count may indicate the presence of anemia.
Most people learn they have a low red blood cell count through a routine CBC test.
People who present with a low red blood cell count may suffer from malnutrition and lethargy.
Anemia caused by a low red blood cell count can be managed by consuming iron-rich foods.
Anemic patients will need to undergo frequently blood testing to monitor their red blood cell count.
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  • Written By: Anna T.
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2014
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A low red blood cell count may be indicative of certain health problems, including anemia, blood loss, or malnutrition. People who have a low level of red blood cells may also be deficient in certain nutrients, particularly iron. A low count may be normal for some people, including pregnant women or young women who have just begun menstruating. Leukemia and most other types of cancers might also be a cause, but a person who has cancer will normally be experiencing other symptoms as well depending on how far the disease has progressed. Red blood cell (RBC) test results that are only slightly below the normal level are fairly common and are usually of no concern to most medical professionals.

The majority of people typically have no idea that their red blood cell counts are low until a complete blood count (CBC) test is performed. There are often no noticeable symptoms. If symptoms are experienced, they might include pale skin, fatigue, and a reduced energy level. Some people also notice that they seem to get short of breath frequently during the day. A person who is experiencing these symptoms may want to visit his healthcare provider to get a CBC test done to determine his blood cell count levels.

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When medical professionals determine that their patients have abnormally low red blood cell counts, they usually try to understand the cause. A patient may be asked about his symptoms and how he feels every day as part of the diagnosis process. If a patient is not having any symptoms that might indicate serious health problems, medical professionals often make a diagnosis of anemia because it is the most common cause of this test result. Anemia is not always serious and can usually be remedied fairly easily.

A low red blood cell count, particularly if the count is low due to anemia, can normally be remedied with an increase in the amount of iron a person consumes. Healthcare professionals might also advise their anemic patients to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet overall containing the necessary vitamins and minerals. Over time, the count may begin to climb if these actions are taken regularly. A person who is anemic will probably have to visit a healthcare provider frequently for blood cell count tests until it has been determined that his levels have returned to the normal range.

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KoiwiGal
Post 7

I have a friend who is constantly complaining about her low red blood cell count, and I think she sometimes get low white blood cell counts as well, but she also basically lives on potato chips and nothing else.

I just don't understand how she can't make that connection. She's always saying it's just her bad luck and her lot to have bad health, and maybe she is intrinsically ill with something, but her diet certainly isn't helping matters.

I suppose it's the same as her complaining about constantly being broke and not able to afford her rent and then showing off her latest $200 hairstyle.

umbra21
Post 6

@anon259352 - It's possible of course, but if it is cancer, particularly leukemia, the doctors should be able to diagnose it fairly quickly. That they haven't means it's probably something else.

I know it's easier said than done, but the best thing you can do now is to relax. Once you're eating the best diet you can and getting exercise and so forth, there's really not much more you can do until you know what's wrong. Stressing about it will only make you sicker.

I wish you the best and hope it turns out to be something that can be cured or controlled.

cloudel
Post 5

Interesting! I didn't know that menstruation was one of the low red blood cell count causes.

It makes sense, though, particularly for a woman with heavy flow. You really do lose a lot of blood during that time of the month, so that would make your count low.

kylee07drg
Post 4

A low red blood cell count causes lots of fatigue, or at least it did for me. My iron was low, and I could barely get around.

I felt so tired at work that I just wanted to cry and lie down at my desk. My job wasn't even physically demanding, and I hadn't done any physical labor recently, so I could not figure out what was making me so tired.

I went to my doctor, who tested my blood and found that I was anemic. She gave me iron supplements and a list of iron rich foods. After a few weeks, I felt normal again.

anon259352
Post 3

I've been going too the doctors a lot. Since I was born, I've had medical problems, but in 2005 I had lymph nodes out twice. The first time, rear disease castleman's was diagnosed, then on the second biopsy, they said it probably just reactive lymph nodes.

Now in the past few months, my knees keep swelling up with a weird rash from my legs to my arms. Some of my blood work is off. My mean platelet volume is high and my rbc is low. I'm so confused and this medical problem has really messed up my life. Or should I say mystery? In my gut, I feel it's cancer or leukemia. Any thoughts?

SarahSon
Post 2

I have a friend whose daughter was diagnosed with leukemia a few years ago. This was pretty scary for the parents and the little girl.

She has gone through 2 years of treatment and is doing quite well. The poor thing was so tired of getting poked and getting her blood counts checked all the time.

It seems like so much of her treatment and progress was related to how her cell counts were every time they checked them.

It is amazing what a red and white blood cell count can tell about what is going on in your body.

LisaLou
Post 1

I recently had some surgery and was sent home expecting a few days of bleeding. My follow up appointment was not for 3 weeks from the date I was released.

After two weeks, I was still bleeding, and they wanted to see me to see what was going one. They did some blood work because they wanted to see if I had been losing too much blood.

I had been taking an iron supplement because I had a history of a minimal low red blood cell count. They wanted to make sure there wasn't something more serious going on.

Everything checked out OK and they told me I just needed to give my body more time to completely heal.

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