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What is a Reticulocyte Count test? 

Reticulocytes are nothing but immature red blood cells (RBCs) in their developmental phase. They are produced in the bone marrow and are released into the bloodstream where they remain for about two days before maturing into RBCs. RBCs are responsible for carrying oxygen to and carbon dioxide from various tissues of the body. 

A reticulocyte count test measures the number of reticulocytes in blood. It is primarily done to check the ability of bone marrow to produce RBCs.

  1. Why is a Reticulocyte Count test performed?
  2. How do you prepare for a Reticulocyte Count test?
  3. How is a Reticulocyte Count test performed?
  4. What do Reticulocyte Count test results indicate?

A reticulocyte test is recommended to individuals who are suspected of having anaemia. Individuals experiencing the following symptoms are advised to undergo this test:

A reticulocyte test is recommended in the following cases:

  • Lower or higher than normal levels of RBCs and haemoglobin in a complete blood test count
  • Presence of conditions that affect the formation of RBCs, such as kidney disease, vitamin B12 deficiency or iron deficiency anaemia
  • Individuals with symptoms of anaemia or chronic bleeding, such as breathlessness, fatigue, weakness or blood in the stool
  • Evaluation of bone marrow function
  • Individuals undergoing treatments, such as radio- or chemotherapy
  • Bone marrow transplant

No special preparation is advised, except in situations when other tests that need fasting blood are conducted simultaneously. Inform the doctor if you are taking any prescription or non-prescription medicines before undergoing this test. Also, notify him/her regarding any recent blood transfusion, as it affects the count.

This test involves the collection of a blood sample from a vein in the arm. A needle will be used for the procedure. The site of injection will first be cleaned, and an elastic band called a tourniquet will be tied around your arm for easy location of vein. Thereafter blood will be withdrawn and collected in a vial or syringe.

A heel stick collection method is used for infants in which a needle or lancet is pricked on the heel to collect the blood sample.

Reticulocyte counts may vary on the basis of age, sex, clinical history and other factors. Always consult a doctor for correct interpretation of results.

Standard results of a reticulocyte count test are given below in percentage.

Normal results: A value between 0.5% and 2% is considered normal in adults. A value between 3% and 6% is considered the normal level of reticulocytes in newborns.

Abnormal results: A percentage of 4% or higher is considered abnormal. Higher values of reticulocytes indicate the presence of anaemia. Higher values might also signify excess RBC production from the bone marrow.

Additionally, treatment of certain conditions, including iron deficiency anaemia, folic acid deficiency anaemia and pernicious anaemia, might increase blood reticulocyte count.

Lower than normal level of reticulocytes indicates the following:

  • Production of fewer RBCs due to aplastic anaemia or other types of anaemia
  • A long-term infection
  • Certain medications that affect the bone marrow

Disclaimer: All results must be clinically correlated with the patient’s complaints to make a complete and accurate diagnosis. The above information is provided from a purely educational point of view and is in no way a substitute for medical advice by a qualified doctor.

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References

  1. University of Rochester Medical Center. Retic Count. Rochester, New York [internet].
  2. Michigan Medicine [internet]. University of Michigan. Reticulocyte Count.
  3. KidsHealth. Blood Test: Reticulocyte Count. The Nemours Foundation [internet].
  4. Simionatto M. Manual and automated reticulocyte counts. Hematology. 2010 Dec;15(6):406-9. PMID: 21114903
  5. Van Leeuwen A, Bladh M. Davis's Comprehensive Handbook of Laboratory & Diagnostic Tests with Nursing Implications. 3rd edition. F. A. Davis Company, USA