Low Red Blood Cell Count (Anemia)

Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. Oxygen enters the lungs with each breath and binds (attaches) to hemoglobin in the red blood cells. Hemoglobin carries the oxygen to all the organs and tissues in the body. Two laboratory tests are done to measure the number and function of red blood cells:

A Hemoglobin test shows how much oxygen the red blood cells are able to carry. A normal hemoglobin level is between 12 and 16.

A Hematocrit shows the percentage of red blood cells in the blood. A normal hematocrit is between 36 and 50.

Signs of a low red blood cell count

When the hemoglobin count is low, the body is not able to get as much oxygen to go throughout the body.

A person with low hemoglobin may have the following symptoms:
  • Tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Fast heart rate
  • Pale skin and/or pale gums
  • Dizziness
A blood transfusion may be given if your child’s hemoglobin is too low.

Blood Transfusions

If your child needs a blood transfusion, the blood given will match your child’s blood type. The blood will be given over several hours into a vein, through a central venous catheter or an IV in the arm. Your child will be checked during the transfusion for signs of a reaction.

One of the most common concerns about blood transfusions is the risk of getting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. The risk of getting AIDS or hepatitis from a blood transfusion is very small. All donors are tested for infectious markers in the blood, such as the HIV virus, hepatitis and others. Blood that tests positive for any disease is thrown away. Although research studies have shown directed donations do not increase blood safety, if it makes you feel more comfortable for your child to receive blood from a family member or friend, such “directed donations” may be available. Blood donations are always welcome, and giving blood is a great way for friends and family to feel like they are helping. For more information about direct donation, ask your health care provider.

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The information and content provided on this website is made available for informational purposes only for children and their families affected by cancer. While the Children's Oncology Group strives to provide accurate and up-to-date information, the information may be out of date or incomplete in certain respects. Please do not rely on this information and seek the care of a qualified medical professional if you have questions regarding a specific medical condition, disease, diagnosis or symptom. The information and content presented herein is not intended to replace the independent clinical judgement, medical advice, screening, health counseling, or other intervention performed by your (or your child's) health care provider. Please contact "911" or your emergency services if this is a health emergency. No endorsement of any specific tests, products, or procedures is made herein.