Red blood cells (RBCs) are a key component of your bloodstream. Their function is to carry oxygen via a protein called hemoglobin. They deliver this oxygen to cells throughout your body, maintaining normal tissue and organ function. Having the right amount of red blood cells is important to preserve healthy blood function.
When a physician draws blood for a complete blood count (CBC) or just an RBC count, she determines the number of red blood cells in an average sampling of blood. For men, the normal expected ratio is about 4.7 to 6.1 million cells per microliter of blood. For women, it’s 4.2 to 5.4 million cells per microliter. This test usually is done to test for a low RBC distribution, which might lead to a diagnosis of anemia, malnutrition, bone marrow failure or other conditions.
High RBC Distribution
When a higher than normal RBC count is found, it can mean a number of things. Cigarette smoking increases RBC distribution, as does moving to a higher altitude and excess dehydration. Some serious medical conditions also can lead to a high RBC count. These conditions include congenital heart disease, cor pulmonale, pulmonary fibrosis and polycythemia vera. Congenital heart disease refers to an abnormality of the heart that was present at birth. Cor pulmonale is the malfunction of the right side of the heart due to hypertension. Pulmonary fibrosis is the scarring and thickening of the walls of the lungs. Polycythemia vera is a rare condition in which bone marrow creates too many red blood cells.
Because a high RBC distribution can signify something as minor as residing in a high altitude and as serious as heart disease, talk to your doctor about other tests that can narrow down the range of potential diagnoses.