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Blood Cell Count Testing

How Chemotherapy Treatment Affects Your Blood Cells

OHC, Blogs, Diseases, 2 comments
September 17, 2014

 

Two weeks ago, we discussed how to manage your appetite during chemotherapy treatments. This week, let’s talk about how your cancer medications, including chemotherapy of course, can affect your blood counts across the three major types of blood cells: red blood cells, platelets, and white blood cells.

The treatment you receive may cause a change in your body’s normal blood cell production and measurements. Fortunately, your body is capable of repairing the changes. But you may experience a period of time during treatment when your blood counts may be lower than normal. For these reasons, we stress frequent hand-washing, avoiding exposure to persons with known illnesses and reporting any signs and symptoms of infection to us immediately.

The following is a brief explanation of your three major blood cells and how they work, signs and symptoms of lower than normal blood count measurements, and what you can do to help yourself during this time.

OHC Red Blood Cells Facts

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1) WHAT ARE RED BLOOD CELLS (RBC)?

Red blood cells carry fresh oxygen to the tissues found throughout your body. Hemoglobin is the protein inside red blood cells that carries oxygen. Red blood cells also remove carbon dioxide from your body, transporting it to the lungs for you to exhale.

Red blood cells are made inside your bones, in the bone marrow. They typically live for about 120 days, circulating throughout your body, and then they die.

Hemoglobin (Hgb) and Hematocrit (Hct) are the blood tests used to evaluate your red blood cells function. Your red blood cell count refers to the number of red blood cells in a volume of blood.

What is a Normal Red Blood Cell Count?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the normal range in men is approximately 4.7 to 6.1 million cells per microliter. The normal range in women is from 4.2 to 5.4 million cells per microliter.

Signs and Symptoms of a Low Red Blood Count.

  • Unusual feelings of weakness or fatigue
  • Dizziness or feeling light-headed
  • Shortness of breath (but usually not a sudden onset of shortness of breath)
  • Pounding in your head or ringing in your ear(s)
  • Pale skin

What Can You Do?

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Rest between activities to regain your energy level
  • Move slowly to avoid dizziness (which could result in a fall)
  • Eat plenty of green, leafy vegetables to add iron to your diet

Eating fresh, organic vegetables can help fight low platelet counts. Photo Credit: jazzijava via Compfight cc

2) WHAT ARE PLATELETS (PLTS)?

Platelets are circulating fragments of cells that help prevent bleeding by clotting the blood. Although much smaller than red blood cells (they’re only about 1/5th the diameter), they are the most numerous cells in your blood. Platelets also are made in the bone marrow.

What is a Normal Platelet Count?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the normal platelet count ranges from 150,000 to 400,000 platelets per microliter of blood. With too few platelets, you may bleed too much. With too many platelets, a number of problems can occur, including the risk of forming blood clots.

Signs and Symptoms of a Low Platelet Count.

  • Nosebleeds
  • Bleeding gums
  • Easy bruising
  • Prolonged bleeding from a cut
  • Black or bloody stools
  • Brown or red urine
  • Tiny red or purple spots on your skin

What Can You Do?

  • Avoid taking aspirin
  • Gently brush teeth with a soft bristle toothbrush
  • Avoid accidental cuts or scrapes that occur when working with knives, tools, razors, etc.
  • Clean your nose by gently blowing
  • Contact your doctor or nurse prior to any dental work
  • Change your diet to decrease processed or sugary foods

Green tea can boost your immune system and allow your body to create more white blood cells. Photo Credit: Kanko* via Compfight cc

3) WHAT ARE WHITE BLOOD CELLS (WBC)?

White blood cells are a critical part of your immune system. Their main job is to fight infection as they circulate throughout your body. When the body is injured or invaded by germs, such as bacteria, many white blood cells quickly migrate to that location to start the infection-fighting process. Like red blood cells and platelets, they are created in the bone marrow. They live for about 3-4 days in the body.

What is a Normal WBC Count?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in a normal adult body there are 4,500 to 10,000 (average about 7,000) white blood cells per microliter. A low number of white blood cells is called leukopenia. When the number in your blood increases above or below the normal range, it can indicate infection somewhere in your body or the reaction to a drug you’re taking. Also, people who have had their spleen removed will always have a slightly higher number of WBCs.

Signs and Symptoms of a Low White Blood Cell Count.

  • Oral temperature of 100.5 or greater
  • Chills or shakes
  • Sudden onset of a new, unexplained pain
  • Burning with urination
  • Cough
  • Sore throat or soars in mouth
  • White coating in your mouth, especially your tongue
  • ‘Flu-like’ symptoms

What Can You Do?

  • Frequent hand-washing (and for those who come in contact with you)
  • Avoid contact with anyone who is sick
  • Inspection of your skin for areas of dryness and breakdown
  • Inspection of your body for areas of infection, such as the mouth and skin
  • Contact your doctor or nurse prior to any dental work

 

 

 
 

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2 Responses

  1. Melinda says:

    oops! correction needed.
    What is a Normal Platelet Count? (change to WBC Count)

    According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in a normal adult body there are 4,500 to 10,000 (average about 7,000) white blood cells per microliter. A low number of white blood cells is called leukopenia. When the number in your blood increases above or below the normal range, it can indicate infection somewhere in your body or the reaction to a drug you’re taking. Also, people who have had their spleen removed will always have a slightly higher number of WBCs.