The red blood cell (RBC) distribution width (RDW) is a measurement of the size variation as well as an index of the heterogeneity of the erythrocytes (i.e., anysocytosis), which is typically used in combination with the mean corpuscular volume to troubleshoot the cause of an underlying anemia. Reliable data emerged from a variety of clinical studies have, however, disclosed a new and unpredictable scenario in the clinical usefulness of this measure, supporting the hypothesis that RDW might be a useful parameter for gathering meaningful clinical information, either diagnostic or prognostic, on a variety of cardiovascular and thrombotic disorders. Highly significant associations have been described between RDW value and all-cause, non-cardiac and cardiac mortality in patients with coronary artery disease, acute and chronic heart failure, peripheral artery disease, stroke, pulmonary embolism and pulmonary arterial hypertension. It is however still unclear whether anysocytosis might be the cause, or a simple epiphenomenon of an underlying disease, such as inflammation, impaired renal function, undernutrition, oxidative damage, or perhaps an element of both. Nevertheless, RDW is an easy, inexpensive, routinely reported test, whose assessment might allow the acquisition of significant diagnostic and prognostic information in patients with cardiovascular and thrombotic disorders.
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