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Blood smear

Peripheral smear; Complete blood count - peripheral; CBC - peripheral

 

A blood smear is a blood test that gives information about the number and shape of blood cells. It is often done as part of or along with a complete blood count (CBC).

How the Test is Performed

 

A blood sample is needed.

The blood sample is sent to a lab. There, the lab technician looks at it under a microscope. Or, the blood may be examined by an automated machine.

The smear provides this information:

  • The number and kinds of white blood cells (differential, or percentage of each type of cell)
  • The number and kinds of abnormally shaped blood cells
  • A rough estimate of white blood cell and platelet counts

 

How to Prepare for the Test

 

No special preparation is necessary.

 

How the Test will Feel

 

When the needle is inserted to draw blood, some people feel moderate pain. Others feel only a prick or stinging. Afterward, there may be some throbbing or a slight bruise. This soon goes away.

 

Why the Test is Performed

 

This test may be done as part of a general health exam to help diagnose many illnesses. Or, your health care provider may recommend this test if you have signs of:

  • Any known or suspected blood disorder
  • Cancer
  • Leukemia

A blood smear may also be done to monitor the side effects of chemotherapy.

 

Normal Results

 

Red blood cells normally are the same size and color and are a lighter color in the center. The blood smear is considered normal if there is:

  • Normal appearance of cells
  • Normal white blood cell differential

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Some labs use different measurements or test different samples. Talk to your health care provider about the meaning of your specific test results.

 

What Abnormal Results Mean

 

Abnormal results mean the size, shape, color, or coating of the red blood cells (RBCs) is not normal.

Some abnormalities may be graded on a 4-point scale:

  • 1+ means one quarter of cells are affected
  • 2+ means one half of cells are affected
  • 3+ means three quarters of cells are affected
  • 4+ means all of the cells are affected

Presence of cells called target cells may be due to:

  • Deficiency of an enzyme called lecithin cholesterol acyl transferase
  • Abnormal hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen (hemoglobinopathies)
  • Iron deficiency
  • Liver disease
  • Spleen removal

Presence of sphere-shaped cells may be due to:

  • Low number of RBCs due to the body destroying them (immune hemolytic anemia)
  • Low number of RBCs due to some red blood cells shaped like spheres (hereditary spherocytosis)
  • Increased breakdown of RBCs

Presence of RBCs with an oval shape may be a sign of hereditary elliptocytosis or hereditary ovalocytosis. These are conditions in which RBCs are abnormally shaped.

Presence of fragmented cells may be due to:

  • Artificial heart valve
  • Disorder in which the proteins that control blood clotting become overactive (disseminated intravascular coagulation)
  • Infection in the digestive system producing toxic substances that destroy red blood cells, causing kidney injury (hemolytic uremic syndrome)
  • Blood disorder that causes blood clots to form in small blood vessels around the body and leads to a low platelet count (thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura)

Presence of a type of immature red blood cells called normoblasts may be due to:

  • Cancer that has spread to bone marrow
  • Blood disorder called erythroblastosis fetalis that affects a fetus or newborn
  • Tuberculosis that has spread from the lungs to other parts of the body through the blood (miliary tuberculosis)
  • Disorder of the bone marrow in which the marrow is replaced by fibrous scar tissue (myelofibrosis)
  • Removal of spleen
  • Severe breakdown of RBCs (hemolysis)
  • Disorder in which there is excessive breakdown of hemoglobin (thalassemia)

The presence of cells called burr cells may indicate:

  • Abnormally high level of nitrogen waste products in the blood (uremia)

The presence of cells called spur cells may indicate:

  • Inability to fully absorb dietary fats through the intestines (abetalipoproteinemia)
  • Severe liver disease

The presence of teardrop-shaped cells may indicate:

  • Myelofibrosis
  • Severe iron deficiency
  • Thalassemia major
  • Cancer in the bone marrow
  • Anemia caused by bone marrow not producing normal blood cells due to toxins or tumor cells (myelophthisic process)

The presence of Howell-Jolly bodies (a type of granule) may indicate:

  • Bone marrow does not produce enough healthy blood cells (myelodysplasia)
  • Spleen has been removed
  • Sickle cell anemia

The presence of Heinz bodies (bits of altered hemoglobin) may indicate:

  • Alpha thalassemia
  • Congenital hemolytic anemia
  • Disorder in which red blood cells break down when the body is exposed to certain drugs or is stressed because of infection (G6PD deficiency)
  • Unstable form of hemoglobin

The presence of slightly immature red blood cells may indicate:

  • Anemia with bone marrow recovery
  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Hemorrhage

The presence of basophilic stippling (a spotted appearance) may indicate:

  • Lead poisoning
  • Disorder of the bone marrow in which the marrow is replaced by fibrous scar tissue (myelofibrosis)

The presence of sickle cells may indicate sickle cell anemia.

 

Risks

 

Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Obtaining a blood sample from some people may be more difficult than from others.

Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight but may include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling lightheaded
  • Hematoma (blood buildup under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)

 

 

References

Bain BJ. The peripheral blood smear. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 157.

Natelson EA, Chughtai-Harvey I, Rabbi S. Hematology. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 39.

Warner EA, Herold AH. Interpreting laboratory tests. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 14.

 
  • Red blood cells, sickle cell

    Red blood cells, sickle cell - illustration

    Sickle cell anemia is an inherited blood disease in which the red blood cells produce abnormal pigment (hemoglobin). The abnormal hemoglobin causes deformity of the red blood cells into crescent or sickle-shapes, as seen in this photomicrograph.

    Red blood cells, sickle cell

    illustration

  • Red blood cells, tear-drop shape

    Red blood cells, tear-drop shape - illustration

    This photomicrograph shows one of the abnormal shapes that red blood cells (RBCs) may assume, a tear-drop shape. Normally, RBCs are round.

    Red blood cells, tear-drop shape

    illustration

  • Red blood cells, normal

    Red blood cells, normal - illustration

    This photomicrograph shows normal red blood cells (RBCs) as seen in the microscope after staining.

    Red blood cells, normal

    illustration

  • Red blood cells, elliptocytosis

    Red blood cells, elliptocytosis - illustration

    Elliptocytosis is a hereditary disorder of the red blood cells (RBCs). In this condition, the RBCs assume an elliptical shape, rather than the typical round shape.

    Red blood cells, elliptocytosis

    illustration

  • Red blood cells, spherocytosis

    Red blood cells, spherocytosis - illustration

    Spherocytosis is a hereditary disorder of the red blood cells (RBCs), which may be associated with a mild anemia. Typically, the affected RBCs are small, spherically shaped, and lack the light centers seen in normal, round RBCs.

    Red blood cells, spherocytosis

    illustration

  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia - photomicrograph

    Acute lymphocytic leukemia - photomicrograph - illustration

    This picture shows the darkly-stained lymph cells (lymphoblasts) seen in acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), the most common type of childhood leukemia.

    Acute lymphocytic leukemia - photomicrograph

    illustration

  • Red blood cells, multiple sickle cells

    Red blood cells, multiple sickle cells - illustration

    Sickle cell anemia is an inherited disorder in which abnormal hemoglobin (the red pigment inside red blood cells) is produced. The abnormal hemoglobin causes red blood cells to assume a sickle shape, like the ones seen in this photomicrograph.

    Red blood cells, multiple sickle cells

    illustration

  • Malaria, microscopic view of cellular parasites

    Malaria, microscopic view of cellular parasites - illustration

    Malarial parasites are visible within the red blood cells. They are stained a dark bluish color.

    Malaria, microscopic view of cellular parasites

    illustration

  • Malaria, photomicrograph of cellular parasites

    Malaria, photomicrograph of cellular parasites - illustration

    Malaria is a disease caused by parasites. This picture shows dark orange-stained malaria parasites inside red blood cells (a) and outside the cells (b). Note the large cells that look like targets; it is unknown how these target cells are related to this disease.

    Malaria, photomicrograph of cellular parasites

    illustration

  • Red blood cells, sickle cells

    Red blood cells, sickle cells - illustration

    These crescent or sickle-shaped red blood cells (RBCs) are present with Sickle cell anemia, and stand out clearly against the normal round RBCs. These abnormally shaped cells may become entangled and block blood flow in the small blood vessels (capillaries).

    Red blood cells, sickle cells

    illustration

  • Red blood cells, sickle and pappenheimer

    Red blood cells, sickle and pappenheimer - illustration

    This photomicrograph of red blood cells (RBCs) shows both sickle-shaped and Pappenheimer bodies.

    Red blood cells, sickle and pappenheimer

    illustration

  • Red blood cells, target cells

    Red blood cells, target cells - illustration

    These abnormal red blood cells (RBCs) resemble targets. These cells are seen in association with some forms of anemia, and following the removal of the spleen (splenectomy).

    Red blood cells, target cells

    illustration

  • Formed elements of blood

    Formed elements of blood - illustration

    Blood transports oxygen and nutrients to body tissues and returns waste and carbon dioxide. Blood distributes nearly everything that is carried from one area in the body to another place within the body. For example, blood transports hormones from endocrine organs to their target organs and tissues. Blood helps maintain body temperature and normal pH levels in body tissues. The protective functions of blood include clot formation and the prevention of infection.

    Formed elements of blood

    illustration

    • Red blood cells, sickle cell

      Red blood cells, sickle cell - illustration

      Sickle cell anemia is an inherited blood disease in which the red blood cells produce abnormal pigment (hemoglobin). The abnormal hemoglobin causes deformity of the red blood cells into crescent or sickle-shapes, as seen in this photomicrograph.

      Red blood cells, sickle cell

      illustration

    • Red blood cells, tear-drop shape

      Red blood cells, tear-drop shape - illustration

      This photomicrograph shows one of the abnormal shapes that red blood cells (RBCs) may assume, a tear-drop shape. Normally, RBCs are round.

      Red blood cells, tear-drop shape

      illustration

    • Red blood cells, normal

      Red blood cells, normal - illustration

      This photomicrograph shows normal red blood cells (RBCs) as seen in the microscope after staining.

      Red blood cells, normal

      illustration

    • Red blood cells, elliptocytosis

      Red blood cells, elliptocytosis - illustration

      Elliptocytosis is a hereditary disorder of the red blood cells (RBCs). In this condition, the RBCs assume an elliptical shape, rather than the typical round shape.

      Red blood cells, elliptocytosis

      illustration

    • Red blood cells, spherocytosis

      Red blood cells, spherocytosis - illustration

      Spherocytosis is a hereditary disorder of the red blood cells (RBCs), which may be associated with a mild anemia. Typically, the affected RBCs are small, spherically shaped, and lack the light centers seen in normal, round RBCs.

      Red blood cells, spherocytosis

      illustration

    • Acute lymphocytic leukemia - photomicrograph

      Acute lymphocytic leukemia - photomicrograph - illustration

      This picture shows the darkly-stained lymph cells (lymphoblasts) seen in acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), the most common type of childhood leukemia.

      Acute lymphocytic leukemia - photomicrograph

      illustration

    • Red blood cells, multiple sickle cells

      Red blood cells, multiple sickle cells - illustration

      Sickle cell anemia is an inherited disorder in which abnormal hemoglobin (the red pigment inside red blood cells) is produced. The abnormal hemoglobin causes red blood cells to assume a sickle shape, like the ones seen in this photomicrograph.

      Red blood cells, multiple sickle cells

      illustration

    • Malaria, microscopic view of cellular parasites

      Malaria, microscopic view of cellular parasites - illustration

      Malarial parasites are visible within the red blood cells. They are stained a dark bluish color.

      Malaria, microscopic view of cellular parasites

      illustration

    • Malaria, photomicrograph of cellular parasites

      Malaria, photomicrograph of cellular parasites - illustration

      Malaria is a disease caused by parasites. This picture shows dark orange-stained malaria parasites inside red blood cells (a) and outside the cells (b). Note the large cells that look like targets; it is unknown how these target cells are related to this disease.

      Malaria, photomicrograph of cellular parasites

      illustration

    • Red blood cells, sickle cells

      Red blood cells, sickle cells - illustration

      These crescent or sickle-shaped red blood cells (RBCs) are present with Sickle cell anemia, and stand out clearly against the normal round RBCs. These abnormally shaped cells may become entangled and block blood flow in the small blood vessels (capillaries).

      Red blood cells, sickle cells

      illustration

    • Red blood cells, sickle and pappenheimer

      Red blood cells, sickle and pappenheimer - illustration

      This photomicrograph of red blood cells (RBCs) shows both sickle-shaped and Pappenheimer bodies.

      Red blood cells, sickle and pappenheimer

      illustration

    • Red blood cells, target cells

      Red blood cells, target cells - illustration

      These abnormal red blood cells (RBCs) resemble targets. These cells are seen in association with some forms of anemia, and following the removal of the spleen (splenectomy).

      Red blood cells, target cells

      illustration

    • Formed elements of blood

      Formed elements of blood - illustration

      Blood transports oxygen and nutrients to body tissues and returns waste and carbon dioxide. Blood distributes nearly everything that is carried from one area in the body to another place within the body. For example, blood transports hormones from endocrine organs to their target organs and tissues. Blood helps maintain body temperature and normal pH levels in body tissues. The protective functions of blood include clot formation and the prevention of infection.

      Formed elements of blood

      illustration

    A Closer Look

     

      Talking to your MD

       

        Self Care

         

          Tests for Blood smear

           

           

          Review Date: 2/11/2016

          Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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