Reticulocytes, or immature red blood cells, can tell you how well your bone marrow is working. They can help zero in on underlying health issues or tell if certain therapies are working. Keep reading to learn more about high and low reticulocyte counts and their effects on your health.
What are Reticulocytes?
Reticulocytes are newly formed immature red blood cells. They are produced in the bone marrow .
Normally, doctors use a reticulocyte test to look at bone marrow function. That’s because reticulocytes are a good indicator of your ability to produce red blood cells. You might get this test if you have low red blood cell count, low hemoglobin, or low hematocrit [1, 2].
Because there are many diseases and conditions that can affect red blood cell production and bone marrow function, a reticulocyte test can indicate something may be wrong but it cannot be used to diagnose a particular disease on its own [1, 2].
Your doctor may also use the reticulocyte count to check how bone marrow or your kidneys respond to particular therapies .
Normally, reticulocytes make 0.5 – 1.5 % of your red blood cells (up to 2.6% according to some laboratories). The values are higher in infants, ranging from 2 – 6%.
Absolute reticulocyte counts normally range from 20 – 80 thousand cells/uL (cells per microliter).
Low Reticulocyte Count
Causes of Low Reticulocytes
1) Abnormal Bone Marrow Function
Decreased reticulocyte count (medically known as reticulocytopenia), can be a result of abnormal or suppressed bone marrow function. Bone marrow issues can be caused by infection, injury, or cancer .
4) Viral infections
Viral infections can cause your reticulocyte count to temporarily decrease .
5) Kidney Disease
Erythropoietin is a hormone made in the kidneys that travels to the bone marrow where it stimulates the production of red blood cells.
Ways to Increase Reticulocytes
Eat a Balanced Diet
Make sure you are not deficient in nutrients needed to produce red blood cells, such as iron, folate, and vitamin B12 .
Stop Drinking Alcohol
High Reticulocyte Count
Causes of High Reticulocytes
A high reticulocyte count (medically known as reticulocytosis) may mean there is hemolysis or increased red blood cell destruction. When there aren’t enough red blood cells in the body, the body tries to increase red blood cell production. However, the bone marrow can release these cells before they have fully matured, which increases reticulocyte levels in the blood [1, 12].
2) Endurance Exercise
3) Blood Loss
Bone marrow will compensate for blood loss by increasing red blood cell production. This will result in higher reticulocytes short-term. They will eventually decrease back to normal .
Exposure to toxins such as ethylene glycol ethers, common ingredients in paints and cleaners, can increase reticulocyte counts. In an observational study of 34 screen-printing workers, the people who were exposed to the toxins had significantly higher reticulocyte counts .
Lead is another toxin that can increase reticulocytes .
Smoking can also increase reticulocyte counts .
Reticulocyte counts can be normally increased in pregnancy .
5) Overproduction of Red Blood Cells
Polycythemia vera is a condition in which there is higher red blood cell production. It is linked to higher reticulocyte counts .
Erythroid leukemia, a rare form of acute myeloid leukemia, causes higher reticulocyte production and release .
Health Effects of High Reticulocytes
1) Risk of Stroke
2) Risk of Death
In an observational study of 386 liver transplant candidates, a high reticulocyte count was associated with an increased risk of death .
Ways to Decrease Reticulocytes
Stop smoking – this can prevent your reticulocytes from being elevated .
Irregular Reticulocyte Levels?
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