Red Blood Cells and Why They Are Important
What Are Red Blood Cells?
Red blood cells, or erythrocytes, are one of the components of blood. (The others are plasma, platelets and white blood cells.) They are continuously produced in our bone marrow. Just two or three drops of blood can contain about one billion red blood cells – in fact, that’s what gives our blood that distinctive red color.
What Is the Function of Red Blood Cells?
Red blood cells carry oxygen from our lungs to the rest of our bodies. Then they make the return trip, taking carbon dioxide back to our lungs to be exhaled.
What Does a Low Red Blood Cell Count Mean?
A low red blood cell count, known as anemia, can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness and other symptoms. If untreated, anemia can lead to serious complications. In many cases, anemia occurs when we don’t eat a nutrient rich diet; choosing foods that are rich in iron and other vitamins and minerals can help raise the red blood cell count. Learn about heme iron and which foods are considered rich in iron.
Anemia can also be caused by pregnancy and certain medical conditions such as bleeding disorders and kidney disease. Talk to your doctor to determine the best course of treatment.
How Are Red Blood Cells Used in Medicine?
Red blood cells are the most commonly transfused blood component. Patients who benefit most from receiving red blood cells include those with chronic anemia resulting from kidney failure or gastrointestinal bleeding, and those with acute blood loss resulting from trauma. They can also be used to treat blood disorders such as sickle cell disease.
How Are Red Blood Cells Collected?
Red blood cells are prepared from whole blood by removing the plasma (the liquid portion of the blood). Sometimes this is done after a person donates a pint of whole blood, resulting in multiple components (red cells, plasma and platelets) that can be given to different patients. Learn more about the different components that can be obtained from a whole blood donation.
Other times, it is done during the donation itself, using a process called apheresis. In this case, only the red cells are retained and the patient’s plasma and platelets are returned to them. Some donors say that this leaves them feeling more hydrated than giving a whole blood donation.
Red cells have a shelf life of up to 42 days, depending on the type of anticoagulant used when they are stored. They can also be treated and frozen for 10 years or more.
Why Donations Are So Important
Recent studies show that there is a need for blood transfusions every 2 seconds, all of which must be collected from volunteer donors. One powerful way to help is to donate what the Red Cross calls “Power Red.” By donating Power Red, you double your impact by contributing two units of red blood cells in just one donation.
Learn More About Blood Components
Donate Power Red and help trauma patients, surgery patients, people with sickle cell anemia, and others.