Red blood cells are the primary constituents of the blood cells in a human body, and their function is to carry and supply oxygen to the various parts in the body. The oxygen is derived from the lungs, and every tissue in the human body requires this oxygen to function properly. It is the red blood cells (RBCs) that carry out this vital activity for the smooth functioning of the body. When the number of RBCs in the bloodstream is abnormally high, the condition is known as polycythemia or erythrocytosis. As a result of this condition, the viscosity or thickness of the blood increases. This has a damaging effect on the ability of the blood cells to flow and squeeze through any organs inside the body.
RBCs are produced in the bone marrow of the body, and their primary constituent is hemoglobin, a protein that carries the oxygen within the blood. A high red blood cell count does not necessarily imply something harmful, as the age and sex of a person are also determining factors. Males have a higher RBC count than women, and newborns generally have a higher amount than full-grown adults.
The normal RBC range in men is approximately 4.7 to 6.1 million cells/ul (microliter) and in women it is 4.2 to 5.4 million cells/ul, according to NIH (National Institutes of Health) data. A high RBC count is generally defined as more than 5.72 million cells/ul of blood for men and 5.03 million cells/ul for women. In children, the threshold for high RBC count varies with sex and age.
The causes of a raised RBC count are many, and for a medical specialist to ascertain the exact cause of the condition takes some time and careful study of the medical history and lifestyle patterns of an individual. Mentioned below are some of the most commonly seen causes.
- The production of RBCs from the bone marrow is higher than normal.
- The kidneys are producing too much erythropoietin, a protein that controls the production of RBCs.
- The RBCs are carrying lesser oxygen than normal, which leads to an increase in the RBC count.
- More cells are being produced due to a limited supply of oxygen at higher altitudes.
- More cells are being produced due to a limited supply of oxygen caused due to some sort of a heart or lung problem.
- Excessive smoking
- Kidney cancer
- Heart failure or some heart disease
- Some form of lung disease
- Steroids that enhance the production of RBCs
- Erythropoietin doping by athletes to boost their performance
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Hemoglobinopathies, a condition that develops from birth (This condition limits the ability of these cells to carry oxygen.)
The symptoms can vary from person to person depending on a variety of factors. Some people may show minimal symptoms that cause absolutely no problem at all, whereas some people may have to live with a lot of discomfort and uneasiness due to this condition. Some other blood disorders can also accompany this condition, and bleeding and clotting problems are not rare occurrences. Some of the most widely and commonly observed symptoms of this condition are as follows:
- Easy bruising
- Joint pain
- Abdominal pain
Once the cause of the condition has been discovered, constant monitoring and regular treatment of the patient will be carried out. As mentioned earlier, some individuals may have this condition inherently, but this may not affect them in any way.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.