Memorial Regional Health: Blood cells reveal much about overall health — simple blood cell count an important lab test
Human blood cell counts tell physicians a story about a person’s overall health, but these important cell counts can also help diagnose and monitor medical conditions.
The blood is made up of water, proteins, nutrients and living cells. Blood cell counts measure white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets in the blood. Among countless other clues of other potential medical conditions or disorders, the counts can tell physicians if a person has anemia, indicated by a low red blood cell count; or infection, indicated by a high white blood cell count.
Kyle Miller, doctor of pharmacy and director of the pharmacy and pharmacy services at Memorial Regional Health, said the white blood cell count tells a story about how the immune system is working. This is an important indicator of overall health.
While a complete blood count is typically not a definitive diagnostic test, its results can help a doctor determine whether further testing is needed, according to the Mayo Clinic.
An otherwise healthy person with no signs or symptoms of illness who receives results slightly outside the normal range on a complete blood count may not need to be concerned. But someone undergoing cancer treatment with results outside the normal range may need an altered treatment plan, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Blood count tests that are significantly above or below the normal ranges might require a visit to a hematologist, who specializes in blood disorders.
Red blood cells
Red blood cells carry oxygen to and carbon dioxide away from the cells in the body, according to the American Cancer Society. In measuring red blood cells, a blood cell count looks at hemoglobin and hematocrit values. When these two values are too low, a person has anemia, the most common blood disorder.
Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein that attaches to oxygen in the lungs and carries it to tissues throughout the body, according to the American Society of Hematology. Anemia results when there are not enough red blood cells or when they don’t function properly. Symptoms include weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, fast or irregular heartbeat, headache, cold hands or feet, pale or yellow skin and chest pain.
Anemia treatment depends on its cause, but can include dietary supplements, a change in diet, medications or, sometimes, more serious courses of action.
A hematocrit test, also called a packed-cell volume test, measure the proportion of red blood cells in the blood. A lower-than-normal count could indicate anemia, a large number of white blood cells due to long-term illness or infection, vitamin or mineral deficiencies or blood loss.
When the hematocrit count is higher than normal, it can mean dehydration, lung or heart disease or a disorder that causes the body to produce too many red blood cells, according to the Mayo Clinic.
White blood cell and platelet counts
White blood cells make up only about 1 percent of blood, but they’re essential for good health and protection against illness and disease, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Leukopenia is the term for a low white blood cell count, and it can be caused by a medical condition, such as an autoimmune disorder, bone marrow problems or cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic.
When white blood cell counts are high, there could be infection or inflammation, an immune system disorder or a bone marrow disease. The Mayo Clinic says it can also be a reaction to medication.
Platelet counts, high or low, can be a sign of an underlying medical condition. Platelets help control bleeding, according to the American Cancer Society. A person might bruise or bleed easily when platelet levels are too low.
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