What Does It Really Mean When Your RBC Is Low?

Your body relies heavily on red blood cells to function properly, and a lack of them can contribute to health problems. Forty percent of your blood is composed of these red blood cells, which carry oxygen from your lungs to your tissues by a protein called hemoglobin (per Cleveland Clinic). When oxygen is transported, it is converted to energy by your cells. A waste called carbon dioxide is then released and carried to the lungs, which is what allows us to exhale when breathing. 

Depending on gender and age, a person's normal red blood cell count varies. The Cleveland Clinic reports that an average RBC count for men is 4.7 to 6.1 million red blood cells per microliter of blood and 4.2 to 5.4 million red blood cells per microliter of blood for women. For children, 4.0 to 5.5 million red blood cells per microliter of blood are the normal range for RBC count.

Having an insufficient amount of red blood cells can lead to uncomfortable symptoms. According to Medical News Today, individuals who have a low RBC count may experience fatigue, dizziness, breathing difficulties, and heart palpitations. It is believed that some individuals are at an increased risk of having low RBC counts, such as pregnant women, people with heavier periods, young children, or people over the age of 60. 

With all of this in mind, it is also important to note that certain medical conditions can contribute to someone experiencing a lower RBC count.

Medical conditions associated with a low RBC count

Having a low red blood cell count is associated with a number of medical conditions. One commonly known condition affecting RBC count is anemia, which can make someone feel tired and weak due to a lack of hemoglobin protein (per Mayo Clinic). If you are feeling unrelenting fatigue, it's important to consult your doctor, as anemia that's left untreated can interfere with your ability to complete everyday tasks and can contribute to heart problems as well as complications during pregnancy.

As reported by the Cleveland Clinic, experiencing blood loss can have an impact on the number of red blood cells that your body is able to produce. Red blood cell counts can also be lowered by diseases affecting the bone marrow, such as leukemia or lymphoma. Additionally, the clinic explains that having a vitamin deficiency – such as low iron, B9, or B12 — can be another factor.

Consuming a healthy diet rich in these vitamins can help to protect your red blood cells. Fish, leafy vegetables, lentils, and beans, as well as nuts and dried berries, are some foods that contain these nutritious vitamins.