What Does a Low Red Blood Cell Count Mean?

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A low red blood cell count means cells in the body are not receiving enough oxygen. Anemia is the most common cause for an abnormally low amount of red blood cells, affecting 3.5 million Americans, as reported by WebMD.

Oxygen is transported through the body using red blood cells. A low level of hemoglobin — an agent in red blood cells that binds oxygen — means the body must work harder to provide oxygen to tissues. As a result, individuals with a low amount of red blood cells experience fatigue and shortness of breath. Patients receiving chemotherapy and radiation therapy to large areas of their bodies also experience low levels of red blood cells. Patients undergoing cancer treatments need to monitor their blood counts to reduce the risk of more serious complications, according to Mayo Clinic.

Iron is a necessary ingredient in the body’s production of hemoglobin, and not receiving an adequate supply results in deficient red blood cells. Women are particularly susceptible to iron-deficiency during childbearing years due to blood loss from menstruation and demands on the body during pregnancy. Poor diet and other medical conditions are also contributing factors in developing anemia. Vegans, vegetarians, infants and children with a diet low in iron are prone to developing iron-deficiency anemia, reports WebMd.

A low red blood cell count can also be attributed to undetected bleeding caused by hemorrhoids, ulcers, inflammation of the stomach and cancer, according to WebMd.