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What is the Difference Between Red and White Blood Cells?

Diana Bocco
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Red blood cells and white blood cells are, in essence, completely different. While both are necessary for the body's proper functioning, they each have singular roles. Red blood cells carry oxygen, while white cells do not, for example. Red blood cells in humans do not have nuclei, while white cells do.

Red blood cells, also called erythrocytes, are responsible for the characteristic color of our blood. They are responsible for picking up carbon dioxide from our blood and for transporting oxygen. The essential component of red blood cells is hemoglobin, which can hold oxygen so the cells can then transport around the body. This process is what gives the body energy, which explains why people who suffer from anemia — low count red blood cells — often feel tired and sleepy. A high count of red blood cells is rare, but it can happen. Causes include kidney disease, dehydration, anabolic steroid use, and pulmonary fibrosis. People suffering from a high count of red blood cells usually have impaired circulation, and are at a high risk for heart disease.

White blood cells or leukocytes, on the other hand, are primarily responsible for fighting foreign organisms that enter the body. This includes everything from bacterial and parasitic infections to allergic response. T-cells, a form of white blood cells, are the ones that stop functioning properly in the presence of an HIV infection. An overproduction of white blood cells can lead to leukemia. On the other hand, certain medications, such as Clozapine®, used in psychiatry, can reduce the number of white cells significantly.

There are approximately 5 million red blood cells in every cubic millimeter of blood; there are only 3,000 - 7,000 white blood cells in the same amount of blood. Red blood cells have an average lifespan of 120 days, while white cells live anywhere from a few days to a few years, depending on the type of cell.

Red blood cells have a circular shape that resembles a shallow bowl, but they can change shape without breaking to squeeze through smaller spaces if necessary. White blood cells have different shapes, depending on their function. While they can multiply easily, they don't change shape.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diana Bocco
By Diana Bocco , Former Writer
Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various businesses. With a data-focused approach and a talent for sharing engaging stories, Diana’s written work gets noticed and drives results.

Discussion Comments

By anon996849 — On Oct 18, 2016

What is the relationship between red blood cells and white blood cells?

By anon292683 — On Sep 21, 2012

I have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. My doctor put me on a yellow tablet which is helping the pain. The only thing is I have to get bloodwork done every month now. It has something to do with the red and white blood cells. I do hope the doctor does not take me off this medication as it helps the pain.

By giddion — On Sep 14, 2012

@wavy58 – I got sick so many times last year and had to take so many antibiotics that my white blood cell count was up and down like a roller coaster! I would feel like I was at death's door, but after the antibiotics kicked in to help out my white blood cells, I would suddenly feel so much better.

White blood cells just look intimidating. I wonder if bacteria panic at all when they see these spiky looking cells rolling toward them!

Red blood cells look so much more smooth and gentle. They don't look like they could cause any damage at all.

By orangey03 — On Sep 13, 2012

Did you know that dehydration can raise your red blood cell count? My cousin had to be hospitalized a few months ago because she was extremely dehydrated, and the doctor told her that her red blood cell count was high.

He said that when a person becomes dehydrated, their blood does not have as much fluid in it. So, it makes sense that the blood cells make up more of its volume.

She had to be pumped full of fluids intravenously, and this got everything back to normal. It is amazing what all dehydration can cause, though.

By Kristee — On Sep 12, 2012

I have had problems with stress for years. It can cause many things to go wrong in your body. I recently discovered that extreme stress can actually raise your white blood cell count!

My blood pressure goes up when I'm really stressed, and this causes my white cell count to rise. My doctor told me that having a high WBC count for a long time could lead to an autoimmune disease, so she put me on anti-anxiety medication.

By wavy58 — On Sep 12, 2012

I've heard that antibiotics can decrease your white blood cell count. I don't imagine they have any effect on red blood cells, though.

Since white blood cells fight infections and you would be taking antibiotics to help your body fight the infection, I can see why these drugs would lower the white blood cell count. Antibiotics take a load off the cells, so they can take a break from sending out soldiers!

By anon271907 — On May 29, 2012

What is the difference between cancer cells and healthy cells?

By anon217250 — On Sep 24, 2011

why are red blood cells so much more likely to lyse when distilled water is added to a solution than white blood cells would be?

By anon210955 — On Sep 01, 2011

I had a total knee replacement eight months ago and it has been the worst experience of my life. I still can not walk or bend knee as usual and I am still in a pain. I was given a CBC test to see if I had an infection in my knee. I was wondering if I had a UTI or bacterial infection would make my test results come back elevated. I have asked two different doctors. One said it could make it come back elevated and one said only a kidney infection could. Does anyone know the truth?

By anon175055 — On May 11, 2011

I am having a test on my blood. They want to separate the red from white. I had a total knee replacement year ago and the knee is still swollen and cannot bend the knee. what has this to do with my knee?

By anon103043 — On Aug 10, 2010

my white cells are 5 and my red cells are 4. what does this mean?

By anon67588 — On Feb 25, 2010

this could be anemia which can lead to leukemia.

By anon48295 — On Oct 11, 2009

What would cause white blood cells and red blood cells to be low?

By anon47452 — On Oct 05, 2009

do the red and white blood cells produce minerals?

By anon31622 — On May 08, 2009

What is the relationship between white and red blood cells?

By anon13413 — On May 27, 2008

why do we separate erythrocyte ghost cell for cancer?

By anon6120 — On Dec 17, 2007

What is the difference between hemoglobin and red blood cell? What the normal range from male and female?

By anon892 — On May 08, 2007

my mother is tired all the time. The doctor said her white cell count goes up and down. what can this be?

Diana Bocco

Diana Bocco

Former Writer

Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various...
Learn more
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