Reticulocytes are immature red blood cells (RBCs). They're made in the bone marrow (the spongy material inside bone) and are released into the bloodstream, where they circulate for about 1-2 days before developing into mature red blood cells. Normally, only about 1% of all red blood cells in the bloodstream are reticulocytes.
A reticulocyte count measures how many of these immature red blood cells are in the bloodstream. This gives an idea of the rate at which these cells are made in the bone marrow.
A reticulocyte count is helpful when a doctor needs more information about someone's anemia (a low number of RBCs). For example, the number of reticulocytes in the blood can be low if anemia is occurring because fewer reticulocytes are being produced by the bone marrow.
The count can be high because more reticulocytes are being produced to replace mature RBCs being destroyed by disease or if there is bleeding. The test also can be used to monitor whether treatment for anemia is working.
No special preparations are needed. On the day of the test, having your child wear a T-shirt or short-sleeved shirt can make things easier for the technician drawing the blood.
Let the doctor know if your child has had a blood transfusion in the past 3 months because this can affect the reticulocyte count.
A health professional will usually draw the blood from a vein, after cleaning the skin surface with antiseptic and placing an elastic band (tourniquet) around the upper arm to apply pressure and cause veins to swell with blood. A needle is inserted into a vein (usually in the arm inside of the elbow or on the back of the hand) and blood is withdrawn and collected in a vial or syringe.
After the procedure, the elastic band is removed. Once the blood has been collected, the needle is removed and the area is covered with cotton or a bandage to stop the bleeding. Collecting blood for this test will only take a few minutes.
Collecting a sample of blood is only temporarily uncomfortable and can feel like a quick pinprick. Afterward, there may be some mild bruising, which should go away in a few days.
The blood sample will be processed by a machine and the results are usually available after a few hours or the next day.
If the reticulocyte count is abnormal, further testing may be necessary to determine what's causing the problem and how to treat it.
The reticulocyte count is considered a safe procedure. However, as with many medical tests, some problems can occur with having blood drawn, like:
Having a blood test is relatively painless. Still, many children are afraid of needles. Explaining the test in terms your child can understand might help ease some of the fear.
Allow your child to ask the technician any questions he or she might have. Tell your child to try to relax and stay still during the procedure, as tensing muscles and moving can make it harder and more painful to draw blood. It also may help if your child looks away when the needle is being inserted into the skin.
If you have questions about the reticulocyte count, speak with your doctor.
Reviewed by: Yamini Durani, MD
Date reviewed: August 2014
|American Medical Association (AMA) The AMA has made a commitment to medicine by making doctors more accessible to their patients. Contact the AMA at: American Medical Association|
515 N. State St.
Chicago, IL 60610
|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
|American Society of Hematology This group provides information relating to blood, blood-forming tissues, and blood diseases.|
|Word! Anemia People who have anemia have fewer red blood cells than normal, which can make them feel tired because not enough oxygen is getting to their bodies' cells.|
|Blood Test (Video) These videos show what's involved in getting a blood test and what it's like to be the person taking the blood sample.|
|Alpha Thalassemia Alpha thalassemia is a blood disorder in which the body has a problem producing alpha globin, a component of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body.|
|Anemia Anemia, one of the more common blood disorders, occurs when the number of healthy red blood cells decreases. This can result in a variety of symptoms, including fatigue and stress on all the body's organs.|
|Getting a Blood Test (Video) A blood test might sound scary, but it usually takes less than a minute. Watch what happens in this video for kids.|
|Blood Test: Ferritin (Iron) Doctors may order a ferritin test when they suspect kids have too little or too much iron in their bodies.|
|Blood Test: Complete Blood Count This common blood test helps doctors gather information about a person's blood cells and how they're working. Find out why doctors do this test and what's involved for teens.|
|Iron-Deficiency Anemia Iron helps the body carry oxygen in the blood and plays a key role in brain and muscle function. Too little iron can lead to iron deficiency anemia. Read more here.|
|Anemia Anemia is common in teens because they undergo rapid growth spurts, when the body has a greater need for nutrients like iron. Learn about anemia, including how to lower your risk of getting it and how it's treated.|
|About Anemia What does it mean when a kid has anemia? Learn about anemia, why kids get it, and how it's treated in our article for kids.|
|Blood Test: Complete Blood Count The complete blood count (CBC) is the most common blood test. It analyzes red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.|
|Blood Test: Hemoglobin Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body. A hemoglobin test may be performed as part of a routine health exam, during a time of illness, or to detect anemia.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.