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Hemoglobin and hematocrit: What are they?

You know that your blood carries oxygen and nutrients all over your body, removing waste products from organs and tissues along the way. Your blood has a role in transmitting information, too, as it carries hormones to target tissues and organs, and has a pivotal role in the defense of the organism from viruses, bacteria and allergens, as it carries the primary defense force of the organism — white blood cells.

Blood tests will do a lot to reveal the general condition of the organism. Numerous parameters are observed in a routine blood test, among these hemoglobin level and hematocrit. What are these? Red blood cells, responsible for transport of oxygen and carbon dioxide from the lungs to the cells and from the cells to the lungs contain a protein known as hemoglobin. The amount of hemoglobin a person has determines how well the red blood cells are performing their function. The amount of red blood cells, that is their percentage of the total volume of red blood cells, is known as hematocrit. The values for both these parameters should be stable, and any increase or decrease in these could signify an ongoing health problem.

What causes high levels of hemoglobin?

In adults, the normal range for hemoglobin is from 12 to 17 grams per deciliter. Men have a slightly higher normal value, ranging from 14 to 17 grams per deciliter, while women typically have 12 to 15 grams of hemoglobin per deciliter. The normal (healthy) range described by the blood test may differ a bit from one laboratory to another.

An increase in a person's hemoglobin levels may be indicative of dangerous conditions such as congenital heart disease, cor pulmonale, erythrocytosis, low levels of oxygen in the blood (hypoxia), pulmonary fibrosis, and other medical conditions. For patients who had a blood test carried out in a private lab, as is customary in some countries, it is recommended to visit a doctor as soon as possible to determine what caused the alarmingly high hemoglobin levels and determine the adequate treatment, if needed. Those who were asked to have a blood test by a doctor will be guided by them.

High hematocrit levels

Your hematocrit level is labeled as "HCT" on the results of blood tests, and this number shows how much of the blood, in terms of volume, is occupied by red blood cells. The typical range of hematocrit for adults is 42 percent to 54 percent for men, and 38 percent to 46 percent for women. Higher hematocrit than these values could be indicative of dehydration, lung disease, tumors, bone marrow disorder or other medical problems. Again, a visit to the doctor is recommended for proper interpretation of the results and determination of the proper course of action.

Causes of high hemoglobin and hematocrit levels

High levels of hemoglobin can be caused by smoking, heart disease, living at high altitudes (response to lower amount of oxygen in the air than at lower altitudes), usage of anabolic steroids, and pulmonary fibrosis or bone marrow disease. High levels of hematocrit may be caused by a range of factors that can include dehydration, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other conditions that are related to low levels of oxygen in the blood. Actually, conditions that cause high hemoglobin levels also cause a rise in the hematocrit.

Routine blood tests often reveal information about our health that we would not otherwise have access to, as these conditions do not necessarily induce specific symptoms. This is why it is a good idea for everyone to have a full blood workup occasionally.

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