What it Means to Have Too Many Red Blood Cells
Even though we think of it as a liquid, blood is essentially a living tissue within the body. Its purpose is to transport useful products from one part of the body to another. To function in this capacity, blood consists of two parts: plasma and cells. Plasma is the straw-colored liquid that allows blood cells to circulate. It carries all types of blood cells, including erythrocytes or red blood cells. Erythrocytes give blood its red color and help make it stickier and heavier than water. Your body may develop too many red blood cells or erythrocytosis in a couple of different ways. The erythrocytes themselves may increase in density or plasma volume may drop, leaving a higher concentration of cells in the blood. Either way, the results are the same.
What Causes Too Many Red Blood Cells
Erythrocytosis is either inherited or acquired. The inherited form is a recessive gene common in Russia. The acquired form can come from several different sources. Since red blood cells carry oxygen to all parts of the body, a decrease in overall oxygen levels provokes the body to begin producing more red blood cells so as to make up for the smaller amount of oxygen each red blood cell is carrying. Decreases in oxygen can come from smoking, living in a high-altitude environment or chronic lung disease. Other events that can cause an increase in production of red blood cells include kidney disease and ingesting certain drugs.
Effects of Too Many Red Blood Cells
Blood that is thick with red blood cells causes the complications related to circulation and oxygen delivery. The heart must work harder to pump thicker blood which puts undue strain on it. The thickened blood moves more sluggishly than normal blood, causing oxygen delivery to slow down. Also, when red blood cells increase in mass, they have a more difficult time permeating tissue and carrying oxygen to all the tissues that need it.
Symptoms of Too Many Red Blood Cells
Since the components of blood function on a microscopic level, the only way to get an accurate diagnosis of erythrocytosis is to draw blood and assess its hematocrit. Hematocrit is the ratio of red blood cells to whole blood, including plasma. The normal range for hematocrit values is 37 to 48 percent for women and 45 to 52 percent for men. Hematocrit elevated beyond these levels indicates the presence of erythrocytosis. Obvious symptoms manifest themselves through circulatory symptoms and symptoms of hypoxia. In general, you may be experiencing erythrocytosis if you have cyanosis (a bluish tinge to the skin), painful red spots on the skin, purpura (purple spots on the skin), you bruise easily or have fever, weight loss, heat intolerance and itching.
Treatment of Too Many Red Blood Cells
Since erythrocytosis is a symptom of an underlying condition, more often than not, treatments vary depending upon what the underlying condition is. If there is no underlying condition and your blood is simply thick with cells, blood is removed from the body at intervals until your hematocrit is at a satisfactory level. This practice has brought back the medicinal leech in some places. If you have a history of dizziness or fainting, you may have fluid replaced at the same time you are having your blood drained. This helps the body maintain consistent blood volume which helps prevent those side effects of treatment.