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Red Blood Cell Count (RBC)

Red Blood Cells carry oxygen throughout the body to the local tissues and exchange it for carbon dioxide.

They are produced in the bone marrow and live for about 4 months before they are taken out of the circulation by the liver, spleen and bone marrow.

The RBC count determines the number of red cells per unit volume.

The RBC Count is Increased in the Presence of:

  • Hemoconcentration
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • CHF (congestive heart failure)
  • Smokers
  • Pre-eclampsia

The RBC Count is Decreased in the Presence of:

  • Anemia
  • Leukemia
  • Hyperthryroidism
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Hemolysis:
    • Transfusion reaction
    • Drug/chemical reaction
    • Infection
    • Burns
    • Mechanical disruption (artificial heart valves)
  • Systemic Disease
    • Cancer
    • Lupus
    • Sardoidosis

Special Considerations

  • During pregnancy, while the total red cell mass increases, the RBC Count falls because of dilutional effects
  • Adaptation to high altitudes includes moderate elevation of RBC Count.
  • During the initial phases of an acute hemorrhage, the RBC count generally doesn't change very much. Later, as extracellular fluid is mobilized and IV fluids are incorporated, there is a dilutional effect that will lead to a reduced RBC count. This fall in RBC count may take several hours to develop.

Normal Values*

   x 100,000/µl


Women 3.6-5.0

*These are general values taken from a variety of sources. The actual normal values may vary from lab to lab and from one type of testing protocol to another.


Source: Operational Medicine 2001,  Health Care in Military Settings, NAVMED P-5139, May 1, 2001, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Department of the Navy, 2300 E Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20372-5300