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A reticulocyte count measures the percentage of reticulocytes (slightly immature red blood cells) in the blood.
How the Test is Performed
A blood sample is needed. For information on how this is done, see: Venipuncture
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, while others feel only a prick or stinging sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.
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.
The normal range depends on the level of hemoglobin, and the range is higher if there is low hemoglobin due to bleeding or red cell destruction.
Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Some labs use different measurements or test different samples. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.
What Abnormal Results Mean
A higher than normal percentage of reticulocytes may indicate:
- Erythroblastosis fetalis
- Hemolytic anemia
- Kidney disease with increased erythropoietin production
A lower than normal percentage of reticulocytes may indicate:
- Bone marrow failure (for example, from drug toxicity, tumor, or infection)
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Folate deficiency
- Iron deficiency
- Kidney disease with decreased erythropoietin production
- Radiation therapy
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
Additional conditions under which the test may be performed:
There is very little risk involved with having your blood taken. Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient 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 light-headed
- Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
- Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)
The reticulocyte count may be increased during pregnancy.
ReferencesBunn HF. Approach to the anemias. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 161.
Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Palm Beach Cancer Institute, West Palm Beach, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington; David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.