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.
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.
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.
The Vital Importance of Red Blood Cells in the Human Body
Red blood cells, also known as erythrocytes, are the most abundant type of cell in the human body. They play a vital role in our body’s overall functioning and are responsible for transporting oxygen and carbon dioxide throughout the body.
Here are some of the important functions of red blood cells:
- Oxygen Transport: The primary function of red blood cells is to transport oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues. Hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells, binds to oxygen in the lungs and releases it in the tissues that need it. Without red blood cells, oxygen wouldn’t be able to reach our organs and tissues, leading to cell death and ultimately organ failure.
- Carbon Dioxide Transport: Red blood cells also play a crucial role in removing carbon dioxide, a waste product of cellular metabolism, from the body. Carbon dioxide binds to hemoglobin as it is transported from the tissues to the lungs, where it is released into the atmosphere during exhalation.
- Acid-Base Balance: Red blood cells also help regulate the body’s pH levels. They contain carbonic anhydrase, an enzyme that converts carbon dioxide and water into carbonic acid, which can then be converted into bicarbonate ions. These ions help buffer the blood, preventing it from becoming too acidic or alkaline.
- Immune Function: Recent research has also shown that red blood cells play a role in the body’s immune response. They can secrete cytokines, small proteins that regulate immune function, and interact with other immune cells to help fight off infections and diseases.
- Nitric Oxide Transport: Red blood cells also transport nitric oxide, a gas that helps dilate blood vessels, improving blood flow and reducing blood pressure.
- Recycling: Red blood cells have a limited lifespan of about 120 days, after which they are broken down and recycled by the body. The iron and other components of the hemoglobin molecule are reused to create new red blood cells, while the rest is excreted as waste.
In conclusion, red blood cells are incredibly important for our body’s overall functioning. Without them, our organs and tissues would not receive the oxygen they need to survive, and our body’s waste products would not be efficiently removed. Maintaining healthy red blood cells is essential for optimal health and wellbeing.
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