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Low red blood cell count.

Q Recent blood work has revealed that I have a low red blood cell count. What might be causing this?

A A low red blood cell count may have several causes, including conditions that reduce the production of red blood cells and blood loss. The common term for a low red blood cell count is anemia. Symptoms of anemia include dizziness, fatigue, and shortness of breath.

Blood tests can point to the source of your anemia by measuring iron, folate, and vitamin B12 (the last two are vitamins needed for red blood cell production).

If your low blood count is due to a deficiency of vitamin B12--a condition common in older adults--make sure that your diet includes plenty of B 12-rich foods (for example, fish and shellfish, lean meat and poultry, low-fat dairy products, and eggs). Your doctor also may recommend a B12 supplement or monthly B12 shots. Folate is present in leafy, green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and mustard greens, as well as fortified breakfast cereals.

If you have an iron deficiency, your anemia might be caused by internal blood loss. If your doctor suspects this, he or she may request an endoscopy (which looks for signs of bleeding in the stomach), colonoscopy (which can identify bleeding in the colon), or a stool occult test that can detect hidden blood. If test results are inconclusive, your doctor will need to investigate further. Health conditions that are associated with a low red blood cell count include ulcers in the digestive tract, chronic kidney disease, underactive thyroid, and some types of cancer.

Orli R. Etingin, M.D. Director, Iris Cantor Women's Health Center Vice Chairman, Dept, of Medicine Professor of Clinical Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College

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Title Annotation:ASK DR. ETINGIN
Author:Etingin, Orli R.
Publication:Women's Health Advisor
Date:Nov 1, 2016
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