Monday, August 23, 2010

Red Blood Cells- The Carrier of Oxygen

What are Red Blood Cells?
Red Blood Cells are the most common type of blood cells found in our body. Red blood cells are also known as RBCs, red blood corpuscles, haematids, erythroid cells or erythrocytes. They have a diameter of about 6-8 micrometers. They have an appearance of an inner tube without a hole in the center. To enable the maximum O2 saturation of hemoglobin, red cells are shaped like biconcave disks. The shape provides more surface area for the exposure of hemoglobin to dissolved oxygen. Red blood cells are also able to change their shape to permit passage through small capillaries that connect arteries with veins. Adults contain 20-30 trillion red blood cells in their body.
The average life cycle of RBC’s is 120 days. Over time, the red blood cells get worn out and eventually die. The RBC’s may vary in number according to exercise levels and oxygen content which can be affected by altitude.

How do Red Blood Cells function?
Red blood cells are known as “carrier of oxygen”. These cells are specialized to carry oxygen from lungs to tissues and throughout the body and transfer carbon dioxide from tissues to lungs. They are red in color because they contain protein chemical called hemoglobin. Hemoglobin occupies one-third of the cell. When it combines with oxygen it is bright red in color but when it releases oxygen it turns bluish. RBC’s perform the most important blood duty. A single drop of blood contains millions of RBC’s. When red blood cells stop functioning properly, it is for sure that many things are going to go wrong in your body.
There are several types of hemoglobin.  A single hemoglobin molecule is made of four identical sub-units. Each sub-unit has a heme component, aglobin chain and an iron atom bound to the heme section. A single hemoglobin molecule is able to carry up to four oxygen molecules.
The ability of oxygen to bind hemoglobin is affected by several factors like temperature, acidity of the blood. Subtle changes in the pH and temperature of your blood (along with some other effects) allow the hemoglobin molecules to catch and release oxygen at the proper times.
Red blood cells also play an important role in carrying carbon dioxide.CO2 is a waste product of metabolism in every cell. RBC’s helps to get rid of this waste.

What happens when Red Blood Cells do not function properly?
When red blood cells do not work properly it leads to certain diseases. People with increased RBC count suffer from:
  • Dehydration
  • Pulmonary disease
  • Polycythemia vera
  • Over-transfusion of whole blood
  • Tissue hypoxia
  • Congenital heart disease

      People with decreased RBC count suffer from:
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Bone marrow damages
  • Hemorrhagic infections
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) or other vascular bleed
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  •  Folic acid deficiency

But what are the reasons for these causes?
  • Massive RBC loss, such as acute hemorrhage
  • Abnormal destruction of red blood cells
  • Lack of substances needed for RBC production
  • Chemotherapy or radiation side effects
Enlarged Red Blood Cells
Macrocytosis is a term used to describe red blood cells that are larger than normal size. It shows no signs or symptoms. It is usually detected by routine blood test. Common causes include:
  • Side effects of chemotherapy
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Folic acid deficiency
  • Liver disease

Red Blood Cells count
A RBC count is the number of red blood cells per volume of blood, and is reported in either millions in a micro liter or millions in a liter of blood.
The ranges for a normal RBC count (expressed in million red cells per micro liter {uL} of blood) are:
  • Women: 4.2 to 5.4 million/uL
  •  Men: 4.7 to 6.1 million/uL
  • Children: 4.6 to 4.8 million/uL

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