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What is the Relationship Between Bone Marrow and Red Blood Cells?

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  • Written By: Vanessa Harvey
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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The relationship between bone marrow and red blood cells, also called erythrocytes in medical terminology, lies in the fact that red blood cells are produced in the bone marrow which is the soft fatty tissue found within bone cavities. This relationship is so close that when blood cells are abnormal, sometimes a medical doctor will order a sample of bone marrow to help discover the exact cause for the abnormality. Red blood cells normally have a life span of approximately 120 days. When they are approaching "old age" or have exceeded their life span, scavenger cells in the spleen, liver, and bone marrow destroy them.

Anemia is a health condition that develops when red blood cell production is decreased to the point of causing a deficiency in the cells. It can, therefore, occur if there are any problems at their production site — the bone marrow. The subject of bone marrow and red blood cells arises in regard to the various diseases that lead to anemia. A number of abnormalities might be seen in red blood cells when there is a problem within the bone barrow. For example, the cells can be in a variety of abnormal shapes, such as that of a teardrop, a needle, a crescent or any other shape.

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Bone marrow and red blood cells have such a close connection that some diseases, such as sickle cell anemia, are said to be curable sometimes, if a bone marrow transplant takes place. Such a transplant understandably involves great danger, because if anything goes wrong — and often it does — things will go wrong with the adequate production of healthy red blood cells that are able to live their full life span. Diseases related to bone marrow and red blood cells can be investigated by two different methods of taking samples of the soft fatty tissue from patients. A bone marrow aspirate and a bone marrow core biopsy can provide the test results needed by doctors. There are times when both types of samples are ordered, in which case they are both taken at the same time.

Studies on the relationship between bone marrow and red blood cells have helped health care providers understand the effects of aging on bone marrow, particularly when a person has not followed a healthy lifestyle and diet in his or her youth. These studies have also led to the understanding of what type of conditions can trigger increased production of red blood cells. Fat content in bone marrow tends to increase with age, causing a decrease of the production of cells. This generally is not a cause for concern unless the body experiences an increased demand for the production of red blood cells. When the oxygen content in body tissue or the number of red blood cells is diminished, a hormone called erythropoietin is produced and released by the kidneys, causing the stimulation of bone marrow to produce and release the needed red blood cells.

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