Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Red blood cells carry oxygen around your body.

Red blood cells carry oxygen around your body.
beginning of content

Red blood cells

Red blood cells are a key component of your blood. Their main task is to carry oxygen around your body and remove waste products. A healthy diet containing essential minerals and vitamins will help your body produce enough red blood cells.

What are red blood cells?

Red blood cells are a very important part of your blood, along with white blood cells, platelets and plasma.

Red blood cells contain a protein called haemoglobin, which carries oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body. Haemoglobin is what makes your blood red.

Red blood cells also help remove waste products from your body, such as carbon dioxide.

Diet and red blood cells

A healthy diet containing essential minerals and vitamins will help your body produce enough red blood cells.

Iron is an essential mineral that you get from food. The main role of iron in your body is to help your red blood cells function normally. Iron deficiency is common.

Read more about foods that are rich in iron. If you are a vegetarian you will need to be particularly mindful of having enough iron in your diet.

Vitamin B also plays an important role with your red blood cells. B vitamins are found in animal-based foods, leafy green vegetables, beans and peas, and cereals and breads that have B vitamins added to them.

Problems involving red blood cells

It’s fairly common for people to develop anaemia, which occurs when you do not have enough red blood cells. Anaemia can be caused by:

  • blood loss, such as from injuries, operations or childbirth
  • certain inherited diseases
  • lack of iron or vitamins in your diet
  • bone marrow disease
  • cancer and treatments, such as chemotherapy.

If you have severe anaemia, you may need a blood transfusion. In some cases you can avoid a blood transfusion through a process known as ‘patient blood management’. Discuss this with your doctor.

There can be problems with having too many red blood cells, too, although this is not as common. It can be caused by some heart conditions, lung conditions, kidney disease or dehydration.

There are a few genetic conditions, such as thalassaemia, that affect your blood.

If you have any concerns, talk to your doctor.

Last reviewed: June 2016

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Found 7197 results

Full blood count - Lab Tests Online AU

To determine general health status and to screen for a variety of disorders, such as anaemia and infection, as well as nutritional status and exposure to toxic substances

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

Red cell indices

MCV, MCH, MCHC and RDW These are measurements or calculations related to red blood cells (RBCs) and are components of the full blood count (FBC), a commonly requested test used for a variety of purposes.

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

Red blood cell count - Lab Tests Online AU

A blood sample drawn from a vein in your arm or by a finger-prick (children and adults) or heel-prick (newborns)

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

Blood film - Lab Tests Online AU

To determine if red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are normal in appearance and number; to distinguish between different types of white blood cells and to determine their relative percentages in the blood; to help diagnose a range of deficiencies, diseases, and disorders involving blood cell production, function and destruction; to monitor cell production and cell maturity in diseases such as leukaemia, during chemo/radiation therapy, or in the evaluation for haemoglobin variants

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

Anaemia

Anaemia describes a condition where there is a low red blood cell count or low haemoglobin level.

Read more on WA Health website

Blood in the Urine

Blood in the urine (also known as haematuria) means the abnormal presence of red blood cells in the urine. It can turn urine pink, red, brownish‐red or tea‐coloured, which can be seen by the naked eye (macroscopic).

Read more on Kidney Health Australia website

Haematocrit - Lab Tests Online AU

If your doctor suspects that you have anaemia (too few red blood cells), polycythaemia (too many red blood cells), or dehydration

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

Anaemia - Lab Tests Online AU

Anaemia is a condition that occurs when the number of red blood cells (RBCs) and/or the amount of haemoglobin found in the red blood cells drops below normal. Red blood cells and the haemoglobin contained within them are necessary for the transport and delivery of oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Without a sufficient supply of oxygen, many tissues and organs throughout the body can be adversely affected. Anaemia can be mild, moderate or severe depending on the extent to which the RBC count and/or haemoglobin levels are decreased. It is a fairly common condition, affecting both men and women of all ages, races and ethnic groups. However, certain people are at an increased risk of developing anaemia. These include people with diets poor in iron and vitamins, chronic diseases such as kidney disease, diabetes, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, a family history of inherited anaemia, chronic infections such as tuberculosis or HIV, and those who have had significant blood loss from injury or surgery.

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

Haemoglobin - Lab Tests Online AU

If you have anaemia (too few red blood cells) or polycythaemia (too many red blood cells), to assess its severity, and to monitor response to treatment

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

AST - Lab Tests Online AU

AST is an enzyme found mostly in the liver, red blood cells, heart and other muscles. When liver, red blood cells, heart or muscle cells are injured, they release AST into the blood.

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

Check your symptoms Find a health service

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo
Feedback