Red blood cells look like a disc with indentations in the middle so they can bend easily to squeeze through narrow blood vessels. The amount of oxygen transported to your body parts depends on your red blood cell count.
Men usually have a higher red blood cell count than women. The level of red blood cells decreases as a person ages. In tiny blood vessels in the lungs, RBCs pick up oxygen from inhaled air and transport it through the bloodstream to all parts of the body.
The mature human red blood cell is small, round, and biconcave; it appears dumbbell-shaped in profile. The cell is flexible and assumes a bell shape as it passes through extremely small blood vessels.
Red Blood Cells transport respiratory gases through the bloodstream so they can be exchanged in the lungs and tissues. Our cells need oxygen to function and make energy and carbon dioxide is released as a waste product from the breakdown of carbohydrates and fats for energy. The RBCs pick up the carbon dioxide and transport it back to the lungs. There we exhale it when we breathe out.
Other functions of RBC :
Aside from oxygen and carbon dioxide, RBCs can also pick up or release hydrogen ions and nitric oxide. When RBCs release nitric oxide, nitric oxide can cause the blood vessels to expand, which leads to a drop in blood pressure.
What causes a high red blood cell count?
High RBC count can be due to dehydration and cigarette smoking apart from diseases like congenital heart disease, renal cell carcinoma, pulmonary fibrosis, and polycythemia vera.
A high red blood cell count may be a symptom of a disease or disorder, although it doesn’t always indicate a health problem. Health or lifestyle factors can cause a high red blood cell count.
Medical conditions that can cause an increase in red blood cells include:
- Heart failure, causing low blood oxygen levels
- Lung disease
- Congenital heart disease
- Carbon monoxide exposure
- Polycythemia vera
- Kidney tumors
Lifestyle factors that can cause a high red blood cell count include:
- Smoking cigarettes, Living at a high altitude or taking performance-enhancing drugs
Ways to Decrease RBC Levels
1) Quitting Smoking
Smoking can lead to an increase in red blood cells.
2) Strenuous Exercise
Aerobic exercise can alter the number of red blood cells in several ways. It is unclear what causes the increase in red blood cells with exercise. Erythrocytes are produced in bone marrow in response to erythropoietin, a hormone released by the kidney. Erythropoietin is secreted when low oxygen levels are low. However, exercise doesn’t usually cause oxygen levels to drop low enough for that to occur.
But remember, if you’re unsure of your health, have existing medical conditions, or are pregnant, you should always speak with your doctor before starting a new exercise program!
In certain cases, a doctor may prescribe drugs that can be used to increase red blood cell loss (aspirin) or to prevent the bone marrow from making too many RBCs
How is a high red blood cell count treated?
If a medical condition is causing a high red blood cell count, your doctor may recommend a procedure or medication to lower it.
In a procedure called phlebotomy, a health professional inserts a needle into your vein and drains blood through a tube into a bag or container. Phlebotomy was once widely used to treat many types of disease but is now limited to the treatment of only a few conditions like hemochromatosis and polycythemia vera. You might need to have this procedure on a repeated basis until your red blood cell level is close to normal.