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Low Red Blood Cell Count and RDW -- What does it mean?

framnessframness Posts: 7
Greetings,

I just had my annual physical and my doctor on learning my brother just got done with treatment for hodgkin's lymphoma ordered up a blood count. The lipid panel I took earlier was stellar and I just got the results on the blood count. Two results tagged as LOW have me wondering.

My RBC is low at 4.31 meg (where the range is 4.35-5.49) and my RDW is low at 11.3 (11.5-14.5) all other numbers are within the expected range (hct reads 41.1%). Obviously I was hoping for a higher RBC number (but then again the low value gives me hope that there is much improvement to be had) and have little clue as to what the RDW means.

I cycle roughly 120-160 Km/week in two-three sessions (and lug around about 90 Kg at 1.9 m) and the last few weeks I've been pushing my long ride out with a long ride of about 100 Km (looking to get in a 130 Km ride this coming weekend). I"ve seen my resting heart rate as low as 43 bpm but 52-60 is the normal value.

My doctor has not reached out to me to come back in for follow up exams or tests.

What can I do to get that RBC up? I see dietary changes can help with that and I suppose I'll increase the red meats. What do you do?

Posts

  • jgsijgsi Posts: 5,026
    Dont think there are many doctors on this forum, mate to understand any of that... but do be aware that when 'blood' and cycling are combined... we all get a bit twitchy... in the light of how easy it is to obtain EPO from China.. not that I am saying that there are some cheating bastards even in the amateur side of cycling....
  • keef66keef66 Posts: 13,286
    I suspect your doctor doesn't want to see you again because your results are fine.

    Your RBC is only just below the reference range. (I've been severely anaemic in the past so I know what a low RBC is like)

    Googling suggests RDW stands for red blood cell width distribution, so a slightly lower number than the reference range is good. Some forms of anaemia can result in a high RDW, as can blood doping and EPO abuse.

    If you want to increase your RBC without blood transfusions or EPO, you need to persuade your body that you don't have enough at the moment. Altitude training is one way of achieving it. Something like Tabata interval training which regularly pushes you into the red would also have an effect. And increasing your dietary intake of iron (red meat, liver, green leafy veg etc.) would help your body to produce RBCs.

    But if you're not a professional cyclist then I'd suggest not worrying about blood tests, and concentrate on cycling instead. It's far easier to monitor progress on the bike by timing yourself. Or if you really want numbers to show progress, get a power meter. I'd assume that your objectives are to cycle further / faster, rather than to stand in the pub comparing red blood cell counts?

    Riding the bike more, or possibly training smarter on the bike, will improve your overall aerobic capacity, lung function, cardiac output, recruit more of the right type of muscle fibre, increase vascularisation, increase RBC, etc etc, but the things you can easily measure are times coming down and power output going up.
  • BrandonABrandonA Posts: 553
    What can I do to get that RBC up?

    Be proactive and box a doctors appointment.
  • framnessframness Posts: 7
    I have zero desire to engage in doping or EPO usage, I understand the bad things those can lead to and don't want my pre-ride checklist to have anything more than beet juice, espresso, and a sugar-boost.

    I did not have an inkling of this until the results came back and the reason I had the test was due to my brother's lymphoma and nothing due to my actual health. I eat lots of leafy greens but have reduced the red meat consumption in my diet, I suppose it is time to go out and change that.

    All in all, my cycling performance is steadily improving I had a great ride the other day, cranking out 51 solo miles at an average speed of 18.5 mph. I have a harder time getting my heart into the red zone (w/perhaps 5 - 10 minutes on a 2.5 hour ride) on the bike so maybe some gym time is needed to do that on a regular basis.

    Thanks all!

    If you want to increase your RBC without blood transfusions or EPO, you need to persuade your body that you don't have enough at the moment. Altitude training is one way of achieving it. Something like Tabata interval training which regularly pushes you into the red would also have an effect. And increasing your dietary intake of iron (red meat, liver, green leafy veg etc.) would help your body to produce RBCs.

    But if you're not a professional cyclist then I'd suggest not worrying about blood tests, and concentrate on cycling instead. It's far easier to monitor progress on the bike by timing yourself. Or if you really want numbers to show progress, get a power meter. I'd assume that your objectives are to cycle further / faster, rather than to stand in the pub comparing red blood cell counts?.
  • framnessframness Posts: 7
    Understood, no needles or pharma wanted. The reason I got into cycling in a big way was to get my health back without getting addicted to pharmaceuticals. Googling shows this is actually an expected situation for endurance athletes and I don't eat too much red meats at the present, which may change. Just hoping to get on the high end of the range rather than outside the low end.

    Looking at my HCRIT number shows them to be in a normal range and reading up on this, that appears to be the number the doper-detectives focus on first and my number is in a normal range and in a place many of the pros are at.

    Dont think there are many doctors on this forum, mate to understand any of that... but do be aware that when 'blood' and cycling are combined... we all get a bit twitchy... in the light of how easy it is to obtain EPO from China.. not that I am saying that there are some cheating bastards even in the amateur side of cycling....
  • keef66keef66 Posts: 13,286
    51 miles at 18.5 mph is pretty good going for a solo ride! I'd just accept that your blood counts are normal for you and carry on doing what you're doing.
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