Treatments & Care at NCH

Health Library

     
Print-Friendly
Bookmarks

Reticulocyte count

Anemia - reticulocyte

Reticulocytes are slightly immature red blood cells. A reticulocyte count is a blood test that measures the amount of these cells in the blood.

How the Test is Performed

A blood sample is needed.

How to Prepare for the Test

No special preparation is necessary.

How the Test will Feel

When the needle is inserted to draw blood, some people feel moderate pain. Others feel only a prick or stinging. Afterward, there may be some throbbing or a slight bruise. This soon goes away.

Why the Test is Performed

The test is done to determine if red blood cells are being created in the bone marrow at an appropriate rate. The number of reticulocytes in the blood is a sign of how quickly they are being produced and released by the bone marrow.

Normal Results

A normal result for healthy adults who are not anemic is 0.5% to 2.5%.

The normal range depends on your blood level of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. The range is higher if hemoglobin is low, from bleeding or if red cells are destroyed.

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Some labs use different measurements or test different samples. Talk to your health care provider about the meaning of your specific test results.

What Abnormal Results Mean

A higher than normal reticulocyte count may indicate:

  • Anemia due to red blood cells being destroyed earlier than normal (hemolytic anemia)
  • Bleeding
  • Blood disorder in a fetus or newborn (erythroblastosis fetalis)
  • Kidney cysts or tumors, with increased production of a hormone called erythropoietin
  • Pregnancy

A lower than normal reticulocyte count may indicate:

  • Anemia caused by low iron levels, or low levels of vitamin B12 or folate
  • Bone marrow failure (for example, from a certain drug, tumor, radiation therapy, or infection)
  • Chronic kidney disease, due to decreased amounts of a key hormone
  • Cirrhosis of the liver


Risks

There is little risk involved with having your blood taken. Veins and arteries vary in size from one person to another and from one side of the body to the other. Taking blood from some people may be more difficult than from others.

Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight but may include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling lightheaded
  • Multiple punctures to locate veins
  • Hematoma (blood buildup under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)

References

Chernecky CC, Berger BJ. Reticulocyte count-blood. In: Chernecky CC, Berger BJ, eds. Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2013:980-981.

Culligan D, Watson HG. Blood and bone marrow. In: Cross SS, ed. Underwood's Pathology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 23.

Lin JC. Approach to anemia in the adult and child. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ, Silberstein LE, et al, eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 34.

Means RT. Approach to the anemias. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 149.

BACK TO TOP

    • Reticulocytes

      Reticulocytes

      illustration

      • Reticulocytes

        Reticulocytes

        illustration

      Tests for Reticulocyte count

       
       

      Review Date: 1/9/2022

      Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

      The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
      © 1997- adam.comAll rights reserved.

       
       
       

       

       

      A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Firefox and Google Chrome browser.