High Red Blood Cell Count: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

High red blood cell count

What are red blood cells?

Red blood cells or erythrocytes are cells without a nucleus that circulate in the blood.

They transport oxygen to the cells and release carbon dioxide.

Red blood cells are essential for life. Each red blood cell contains hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein.

Hemoglobin is a protein that transports oxygen from the lungs to the body’s various organs and removes carbon dioxide from the organs to the lungs. Hemoglobin provides the red color of blood. Hemoglobin contains 65% of the body’s iron stores. The calculation of red blood cells allows the detection of certain pathologies such as anemia.

What is considered a high red blood cell count?

High red blood cell count or erythrocytosis is when the number of red blood cell count exceeds a certain level.

Men: RBC count shouldn’t exceed 6.1m/mm3. Above this level, we consider the red blood cell count elevated.

Women: RBC count shouldn’t exceed 5.5m/mm3. Above this level, we consider the red blood cell count elevated.

The normal ranges for red blood cell count are the following:

Men: The number of red blood cells in men is between 4.5 and 6 million/mm3 with a hemoglobin between 13 and 18 g/100 dl.

Women: The number of red blood cells in women is between 4 and 5.4 million/mm3 with a hemoglobin of about 14 g/100 dl. These numbers are decreased in a pregnant woman.

Babies and Children: In babies, the number of red blood cells is about 5.8 million/mm3 and the hemoglobin is about 13 to 16 g/dl. In children, the number of red blood cells is between 3.6 and 4.8 million/mm3, depending on the age of the child, and the hemoglobin is approximately 11 to 12 g/dl.

What causes a high red blood cell count?

If the numbers are higher than normal, polycythemia may be suspected.

Polycythemia is an increase of red blood cells in the blood.

A distinction is made between primary polycythemia, which is caused by an exacerbation of the function of the bone marrow that produces red blood cells, and secondary polycythemia.

Sometimes we also talk about polycythemia vera (primary and secondary).

Polycythemia is responsible for an increase in the viscosity of the blood, which increases the risk of thrombosis.

High red blood cell count can be caused by many factors like :

  • Lung disease
  • Altitude
  • Smoking
  • Birth defected of the heart
  • Liver tumor
  • Genetic disorders
  • Hormonal treatments (testoterone)
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning 

Sometimes, a simple increase in the RBC level is possible, without it being polycythemia: smoking, obesity, hypertension, alcoholism, excessive stress… can lead to an increase in this level.

What are the symptoms of high red blood cell count?

High red blood cell count doesn’t always show symptoms. You can have elevated red blood cell count for months or years without noticing it.

However, erythrocytosis‘s symptoms can be the following:

  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headeache
  • A sensation of completion just after you eat, or bulging or torment in your left upper midsection (in light of an extended spleen)

How to diagnose high red blood cell count?

Usually, doctors perform a complete blood count test (CBC test) to analyze your number of red blood cells.

You’ll then get your number and easily see if something is wrong with your blood cells.

Can dehydration cause high red blood cell count?

Yes dehydration increases the number of red blood cells. The number of red blood cell will also be more concentrated.

How to treat elevated red blood cell count?

Treatment methods exist to lessen the effects of polycythemia.

Regular blood sampling can be done to reduce the number of red blood cells.

Specific medications can also be given to reduce complications by reducing the production of platelets.

With proper treatment, a person with polycythemia or elevated red blood cell count can live for many years with mild to moderate symptoms.

It is important to note that treatment does not permanently cure polycythemia, but it slows its progression and reduces its complications. For example, it prevents the regular formation of blood clots.

Other treatment methods include bone marrow transplantation.

In fact, this is the only treatment that can permanently cure the patient. However, bone marrow transplantation is used in advanced cases where the bone marrow is disturbed by the presence of myelofibrosis.

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