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What is the Difference Between Red and White Blood Cells?

White blood cells fight foreign organisms in the body.
Red blood cells carry oxygen to different areas of the body.
Samples of blood from a healthy person and one with leukemia, showing an increase in the numbers of white blood cells.
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  • Written By: Diana Bocco
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2014
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Red blood cells and white blood cells are, in essence, completely different. While both are necessary for the body's proper functioning, they each have singular roles. Red blood cells carry oxygen, while white cells do not, for example. Red blood cells in humans do not have nuclei, while white cells do.

Red blood cells, also called erythrocytes, are responsible for the characteristic color of our blood. They are responsible for picking up carbon dioxide from our blood and for transporting oxygen. The essential component of red blood cells is hemoglobin, which can hold oxygen so the cells can then transport around the body. This process is what gives the body energy, which explains why people who suffer from anemia — low count red blood cells — often feel tired and sleepy. A high count of red blood cells is rare, but it can happen. Causes include kidney disease, dehydration, anabolic steroid use, and pulmonary fibrosis. People suffering from a high count of red blood cells usually have impaired circulation, and are at a high risk for heart disease.

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White blood cells or leukocytes, on the other hand, are primarily responsible for fighting foreign organisms that enter the body. This includes everything from bacterial and parasitic infections to allergic response. T-cells, a form of white blood cells, are the ones that stop functioning properly in the presence of an HIV infection. An overproduction of white blood cells can lead to leukemia. On the other hand, certain medications, such as Clozapine®, used in psychiatry, can reduce the number of white cells significantly.

There are approximately 5 million red blood cells in every cubic millimeter of blood; there are only 3,000 - 7,000 white blood cells in the same amount of blood. Red blood cells have an average lifespan of 120 days, while white cells live anywhere from a few days to a few years, depending on the type of cell.

Red blood cells have a circular shape that resembles a shallow bowl, but they can change shape without breaking to squeeze through smaller spaces if necessary. White blood cells have different shapes, depending on their function. While they can multiply easily, they don't change shape.

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anon292683
Post 23

I have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. My doctor put me on a yellow tablet which is helping the pain. The only thing is I have to get bloodwork done every month now. It has something to do with the red and white blood cells. I do hope the doctor does not take me off this medication as it helps the pain.

giddion
Post 22

@wavy58 – I got sick so many times last year and had to take so many antibiotics that my white blood cell count was up and down like a roller coaster! I would feel like I was at death's door, but after the antibiotics kicked in to help out my white blood cells, I would suddenly feel so much better.

White blood cells just look intimidating. I wonder if bacteria panic at all when they see these spiky looking cells rolling toward them!

Red blood cells look so much more smooth and gentle. They don't look like they could cause any damage at all.

orangey03
Post 21

Did you know that dehydration can raise your red blood cell count? My cousin had to be hospitalized a few months ago because she was extremely dehydrated, and the doctor told her that her red blood cell count was high.

He said that when a person becomes dehydrated, their blood does not have as much fluid in it. So, it makes sense that the blood cells make up more of its volume.

She had to be pumped full of fluids intravenously, and this got everything back to normal. It is amazing what all dehydration can cause, though.

Kristee
Post 20

I have had problems with stress for years. It can cause many things to go wrong in your body. I recently discovered that extreme stress can actually raise your white blood cell count!

My blood pressure goes up when I'm really stressed, and this causes my white cell count to rise. My doctor told me that having a high WBC count for a long time could lead to an autoimmune disease, so she put me on anti-anxiety medication.

wavy58
Post 19

I've heard that antibiotics can decrease your white blood cell count. I don't imagine they have any effect on red blood cells, though.

Since white blood cells fight infections and you would be taking antibiotics to help your body fight the infection, I can see why these drugs would lower the white blood cell count. Antibiotics take a load off the cells, so they can take a break from sending out soldiers!

anon271907
Post 18

What is the difference between cancer cells and healthy cells?

anon217250
Post 16

why are red blood cells so much more likely to lyse when distilled water is added to a solution than white blood cells would be?

anon210955
Post 15

I had a total knee replacement eight months ago and it has been the worst experience of my life. I still can not walk or bend knee as usual and I am still in a pain. I was given a CBC test to see if I had an infection in my knee. I was wondering if I had a UTI or bacterial infection would make my test results come back elevated. I have asked two different doctors. One said it could make it come back elevated and one said only a kidney infection could. Does anyone know the truth?

anon175055
Post 14

I am having a test on my blood. They want to separate the red from white. I had a total knee replacement year ago and the knee is still swollen and cannot bend the knee. what has this to do with my knee?

anon103043
Post 13

my white cells are 5 and my red cells are 4. what does this mean?

anon67588
Post 9

this could be anemia which can lead to leukemia.

anon48295
Post 7

What would cause white blood cells and red blood cells to be low?

anon47452
Post 6

do the red and white blood cells produce minerals?

anon31622
Post 5

What is the relationship between white and red blood cells?

anon13413
Post 4

why do we separate erythrocyte ghost cell for cancer?

anon6120
Post 2

What is the difference between hemoglobin and red blood cell? What the normal range from male and female?

anon892
Post 1

my mother is tired all the time. The doctor said her white cell count goes up and down. what can this be?

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