What is Poikilocytosis?

A poikilocyte is an abnormally-shaped red blood cell (RBC). Thus, poikiloyctosis is when a person has poikilocytes in their blood.

It’s important to note that this condition is rare in humans. When acquired, it can lead to problems with delivering oxygen throughout the body.

In this article, we’ll talk about what it is, as well as the treatment options.

The Function of Normal Red Blood Cells

The main job of the red blood cells is the transport oxygen. As oxygen is taken in through the lungs, it enters the bloodstream via red blood cells.

The main component of the red blood cells is hemoglobin. This protein molecule binds to the oxygen throughout its journey.

Once the red blood cell delivers the oxygen to distant tissues, it returns to the lungs to pick up more fresh oxygen. It’s a repeating cycle that continues until the day we die.

Bottom Line: The primary function of the red blood cell is to deliver oxygen throughout the body. The main component of RBCs is the protein hemoglobin.

The Problem with Poikilocytes

Abnormally-shaped red blood cells can pose a big problem in the body. Red blood cells are supposed to be a certain shape and size.

If a cell begins to differ from all the others, problems can arise. Specifically, it can get trapped where it shouldn’t be (forming a clot).

Additionally, it might become less efficient at delivering oxygen. Almost everyone has some % of poikilocytes in their blood.

But this doesn’t mean you have poikilocytosis per se. It only becomes medically relevant if the number of these cells get too high. When this happens, you may begin to experience unusual symptoms.

Bottom Line: Having too many abnormally-shaped red blood cells in the blood can cause the body to become less efficient at delivering oxygen.

What Causes Poikilocytosis?

There are many reasons for why a person might have poikilocytosis. The first and arguably the most common one is a vitamin deficiency.

People who lack folic acid, for example, can cause their red blood cells to change shape and become less efficient.

Additionally, people who don’t get enough vitamin B12 are also at risk. Remember that vitamin B12 can only be acquired through animal foods.

If you’re a vegan, you must supplement to get your daily dose. A few days without vitamin B12 might not be a big deal. But if you go too long without it, it’s going to present itself in many ways.

Bottom Line: The most common vitamin deficiency in people with this condition is a vitamin B12 deficiency. Remember that you can only get this vitamin from animal foods.

The Symptoms of Poikilocytosis

As red blood cells struggle to do their job, you may begin to experience the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight Loss
  • Increased Heart Rate
  • Growth Retardation
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty Concentrating

The reason people with poikilocytosis experience these symptoms is because their body is struggling to get the oxygen it needs.

As the body attempts to compensate for the suboptimal red blood cells, it speeds up the heart rate. Since less oxygen is being delivered to the brain, you might feel tired and have difficulty concentrating.

In some cases, the skin might even turn pale since it’s not receiving the oxygen it normally receives. The body slowly begins to degrade due to the misshapen red blood cells.

Bottom Line: The telltale signs that your red blood cells aren’t working correctly is that you’ll feel tired, weak, and have difficulty concentrating.

How is Poikilocytosis Diagnosed?

The best way to diagnose poikilocytosis is through a blood film test. This is when doctors measure the number of poikilocytes in the blood.

In more severe cases, the doctor may even draw blood directly from the bone marrow. If the doctor concludes that it’s due to a vitamin deficiency, then he or she may give you supplements to begin taking immediately.

Finally, a hemoglobin test may also be administered. Remember that hemoglobin is the primary protein component of red blood cells.

It should be between 14-18 milligrams/deciliter. If you have less than this, then you’re considered deficient in hemoglobin.

Bottom Line: The blood film test and the hemoglobin test will allow doctors to accurately diagnose you. Your hemoglobin levels should sit between 14 and 18 milligrams per deciliter.


Generally, this is a condition that you can change naturally through lifestyle changes. In some cases, poikilocytosis can only be treated through medical intervention.

If it turns out to be a dietary issue, then it’s an easy fix: simply get more of that specific vitamin. Foods that are rich in vitamin B12 include eggs, dairy, and basically all meat products.

Beans are an excellent source of iron. Your doctor may have you supplement for a few weeks to a few months to see if your symptoms go away.

For people with cancerous poikilocytosis, chemotherapy may be required to kill those abnormal cells. Fortunately, this cause isn’t that common.

Bottom Line: Lifestyle changes, including getting more exercising and eating better, is the main treatment option for people with poikilocytosis.


People with this condition can go on to live a normal life. This is because fixing the problem is usually straightforward.

However, if you ignore the problem, then the condition can make you susceptible to a variety of other diseases and conditions.

Listen to your doctor and take the treatment approaches that they’ve given. If it means going on a diet, then that’s what you’ll need to do.

Bottom Line: People with this blood condition don’t have a shorter life expectancy than other people. However, it can make you susceptible to other chronic conditions.


This blood condition won’t go away on its own. You’ll need to be proactive and make the necessary lifestyle changes to make your symptoms go away.

The best thing you can start doing is to eat more dietary vitamin B12 as well as iron. Iron is the primary component of hemoglobin, which is why you must make an effort to get more of it in your diet.

Ask a Question: If you want to ask a medical doctor a question that hasn't been answered in one of our articles go to: Ask a Medical Doctor About your Symptoms

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