Normal Reticulocyte Count

Do you have a normal reticulocyte count? A reticulocyte is an immature red blood cell, known as an RBC for short. It is created in the bone marrow and makes its way to the bloodstream, where it develops into a mature cell within one or two days. About one percent of all red blood cells are reticulocyte. If you have a normal reticulocyte count, it means that your body is producing enough cells in the bone marrow.

What Is Normal Reticulocyte Count?

The reticulocyte count can be determined by a simple blood test. The results are given as a percentage. In a normal, healthy adult, the percentage should be anywhere between 0.5% and 1.5% in the blood. A normal reticulocyte count for newborns is anywhere from 3% to 6%. Newborns are just creating their own blood supply and bone marrow, which is why their counts will be higher. As the child grows, that number will drop and come into line with the typical number that you might expect for older children or adults.

Keep in mind that each laboratory is different, so they might have a different scale by which to determine what the RBC count truly is. Check with your doctor if the numbers seem to fall far outside the listed range.

What If I Have Abnormal Reticulocyte Count?

When you get abnormal test results, you will be understandably nervous and worried about what this might mean for your health. The good news is that in most cases, the problem is one that can be easily remedied. Here's what you need to know about abnormal counts:

1. High Reticulocyte Count

If you have a high count, you might be suffering from acute bleeding, chronic blood loss or some forms of anemia, all of which can force your body to make more red blood cells. You might also have hemolytic disease, which can be fatal to newborns, or you might have kidney disease.

2. Low Reticulocyte Count

If your count is too low, it might be because you are suffering from a deficiency of iron, folic acid or B12, undergoing radiation therapy, or experiencing the symptoms of aplastic anemia. You might also have cirrhosis of the liver, kidney disease, or a bone marrow failure, which might be caused by cancer or cancer treatments.

Special Notes

If you are suffering from anemia, you will have strange blood levels, including low hemoglobin. Keep in mind that during anemia, your body is fighting to create new red blood cells, which can make your reticulocyte count very high. This is why your doctor will do a full blood workup to figure out what is going on.

If your levels do not come back to a normal reticulocyte count even after treatment has been provided, your doctor might want to do a bone marrow biopsy. This will determine how well your bone marrow is functioning and find any problems that might be lurking there.

Can Any Factors Affect the Count?

There are some outside factors that might affect your blood levels, including your RBC counts.

  • ŸIf you have recently moved to a higher altitude, your body will be adapting to the lower oxygen levels, which means that you might have higher counts for a while.
  • ŸThis is also true if you are a smoker with diminished lung capacity.
  • ŸCertain medications can lead to a strange blood count, including those taken for fevers, malaria, Parkinson's disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • ŸIf you are undergoing chemotherapy for cancer treatment, you can expect to see either high or low counts on a regular basis.
  • ŸIf you are pregnant, you will also see high counts, which will likely drop after the baby is born.

When Is a Reticulocyte Count Test Ordered?

Your doctor might want to check for a normal reticulocyte count if you have had any blood testsrecently that have abnormal readings, if you have signs of anemia, or if you have been diagnosed with something that might cause a problem, such as forms of cancer or kidney problems. If you have had a bone marrow transplant or are receiving chemotherapy, your counts will be checked on a very regular basis.

How Is a Reticulocyte Count Test Performed?

Fortunately, checking for a normal reticulocyte count can be done very easily with a blood test. The doctor, nurse or laboratory technician will simply withdraw blood through a typical needle stick, which takes only a moment to complete. A vial will be filled with blood, and the results will be available within a few days, depending upon the lab. Your doctor should call you with the results. 

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