Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs around the body. They then carry carbon dioxide from around the body back to the lungs.
These cells are an important component of blood. However, a range of conditions can cause problems with how red blood cells work or how many are in the bloodstream.
This article explores what red blood cells are in more detail. It also lists some disorders that affect them, discusses red blood cell counts, and answers some common questions.
Red blood cells, also called erythrocytes, begin as immature cells in the bone marrow. After about 7 days of maturation, they make their way into the bloodstream. Each red blood cell lives for
They are red in color and shaped like a disk, with a flat center that causes a slight indentation in the middle. They are the most abundant type of cell in the blood.
Red blood cells have no nucleus and can easily change shape. This helps them fit through various blood vessels throughout the body.
What do they do?
After a person breathes in oxygen using their lungs, the red blood cells collect this oxygen from the lungs and carry it through the bloodstream to different cells around the body.
The red blood cells also collect carbon dioxide from the body’s cells and carry it back to the lungs. A person then exhales this carbon dioxide.
This section explores a variety of red blood cell disorders.
If a person has anemia, their red blood cells have a decreased ability to carry oxygen to the body’s cells via the bloodstream.
This may cause the
If a person develops severe anemia, they may experience:
Sickle cell disease
With SCD, an issue with hemoglobin causes the red blood cells to become hard and sticky. It also causes the cells to become C-shaped, similar to a farm tool called a sickle.
Sickle-shaped cells die early, causing a person to have a continual shortage of red blood cells. The cells can also become stuck in blood vessels, which can disrupt the flow of blood.
Common symptoms of SCD include:
- extreme fatigue due to anemia
- jaundice, which refers to a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
- dactylitis, which refers to painful swelling of the hands and feet
Seeking medical help
SCD can lead to serious health problems that may be life threatening.
People with SCD should seek immediate medical care if they experience:
- severe anemia, which may cause:
- shortness of breath
- extreme fatigue
- an irregular heartbeat
- a fever over
101.3 ºF (38.5 ºC)
- a stroke, which can cause sudden:
- acute chest syndrome, which causes:
- priapism, which is an erection that lasts for 4 hours or more
According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), this can cause a person’s blood to become thicker, slowing the blood flow.
Some people with polycythemia do not experience symptoms. However, signs of the condition may include:
- blurred vision
- skin discoloration, especially on the hands, feet, or face
- abdominal pain
- high blood pressure
The NHS recommends people speak with a healthcare professional if these symptoms persist.
This causes the red blood cells to function unusually and live for a shorter period, leading to fewer healthy red blood cells in the bloodstream.
People with moderate and severe thalassemia often learn they have the condition in childhood. This is generally because they experience symptoms of severe anemia early in life.
A person with a less severe form of thalassemia may only discover they have it if they experience symptoms of anemia or a doctor finds they have anemia during a routine blood test.
A parasite causes the infection, and it cannot transmit between people. The parasite multiplies within a person’s red blood cells, destroying the cells.
Symptoms of malaria can be mild or life threatening.
Mild symptoms include:
Severe symptoms of malaria include:
A red blood cell count is a blood test that shows how many red blood cells a person has in their blood.
According to the
Several health conditions and other factors can affect a person’s red blood cell count, such as:
Below are some of the most common questions and answers about red blood cells.
What is the main function of red blood cells?
The main function of red blood cells is to
Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to cells around the body. They also collect carbon dioxide from the body’s cells and transport it back to the lungs. A person then exhales the carbon dioxide.
What raises a person’s red blood cell count?
According to the NHS, other factors that may cause a person’s red blood cell count to increase include:
- congenital heart disease
- pulmonary fibrosis
- hypoxia, which refers to low blood oxygen levels
What are the most common blood disorders?
There are several different types of blood disorders. Some common ones include:
Red blood cells carry gases around the body. They collect oxygen from the lungs and transport it to the cells around the body. They then collect carbon dioxide from the cells around the body and transport it back to the lungs.
Several red blood cell disorders can decrease the effectiveness of a person’s red blood cells. These include anemia, polycythemia, sickle cell disease, thalassemia, and malaria.
A person should speak with a healthcare professional if they experience any symptoms that may indicate a red blood cell disorder.