Within your body, red blood cells are responsible for moving oxygen and hemoglobin to the different tissues in the body. They take oxygen to the lungs and deposit them in the tissue before the blood removes carbon dioxide and waste. In medical fields, the concentration of the hemoglobin in your red blood cells is expressed as the Mean Corpuscular Hemoglobin or MCH. The MCH is determined by multiplying the total hemoglobin amount in the body by 10 and then dividing it by the total red blood cell count.
What Are the Normal Levels of MCH?
Normally, MCH levels should be between 26 and 44 picograms. A picogram is one trillionth of a gram, so you would need 26 to 33 trillionths to be at a normal level of hemoglobin concentration. This range is not permanent and can vary throughout your life and between people. Depending on your age, health or other factors, your laboratory report may decide if your hemoglobin levels are actually within a normal range or not. When you receive the laboratory report back, you will be able to see if your MCH levels are actually in a normal range.
What Determines High MCH Level?
Your MCH level is considered high if it is more than 34 picograms. When your MCH levels reach this peak, it normally means that you have macrocytic anemia. This blood disorder develops due to a deficiency in vitamin B12 (folic acid). Macrocytic anemia basically happens when the body does not make enough red blood cells. This means that they have more hemoglobin present than red blood cells—or, at least, a ratio much higher than normal. Folic acid contains carbon, so it is needed to perform metabolic processes and operate basic bodily functions. If these levels are messed up due to illness, it can cause other problems as well.
What Determines a Low MCH Level?
In addition to potential issues with a high MCH level, it is possible for you to develop the opposite problem. In general, your MCH levels are considered low if they drop below 26 picograms. This can be due to conditions like an acute iron deficiency, blood loss, hemoglobinopathy or microcytic anemia. With microcytic anemia, your blood cells are smaller than normal, so there concentration is out of balance with the hemoglobin present. Since this disease is caused by a lower level of iron in the body, it means that blood and oxygen are not transported optimally through the body. In hemoglobinopathy, the molecular structure of the hemoglobin changes, so the MCH value is lowered.
MCV Levels in Your Body
When you are reading a Complete Blood Count test (CBC), you will see the term MCV in addition to MCH. Both of these terms are for the red blood cell indices. When you look at these numbers, it shows the size of your red blood cell count as well as the concentration of hemoglobin in your bloodstream. If your doctor orders a Complete Blood Count, it is to look at the makeup of your blood and to determine if there is a medical condition causing changes.
A Brief Overview of MCV
MCV is an acronym for Mean Corpuscular Volume. To calculate this figure, the entire volume of the packed red blood cells or hematocrit is divided by the entire number of red blood cells. Among healthy individuals, this number should be in a range between 80 to 100 femtoliters. The term femtoliter is basically a small unit that is used to measure the volume of packed red blood cells, and it roughly works out to 10 to 15L. Depending on the test or the machine, the actual equivalent of the femtoliter may change, so a level that is normal from one laboratory may appear abnormal at another laboratory. When you are reading your MCV levels, you should make sure that follow the guidelines issued by the laboratory so that you do not end up assuming that your levels are abnormal.
A Low MCV Level
In general, an MCV level is considered too low if it is less than 80 femtoliters. This indicates that your red blood cells are smaller in comparison to the volume of your blood. When this happens, they are not able to carry enough hemoglobin throughout your body. If you have a low MCV count, it could be due to a disorder like iron deficiency anemia. Other possible causes include gastrointestinal blood loss or thalassemia. Often, it occurs when some type of iron deficiency or anemia is present.
High MCV Levels
If your MCV level is higher than 100 femtoliters, then you have higher than normal levels. This means that your red blood cells are larger than a normal individual. When you have this symptom, you may have it due to a number of different causes. You may develop high MCV levels due to excessive alcohol consumption, chronic alcoholism or a vitamin B12 deficiency. Other causes of this condition include pernicious anemia, iron deficiency or hemolytic anemia.
For most people, abnormally high or low MCV levels are due to some type of anemia. Since this can only be diagnosed with a blood test, you will have to see your doctor to figure out if your MCV levels are normal. If something is unusual in your blood count, your doctor may run other diagnostic tests to figure out the health condition that is at fault. For simple cases of iron deficiency, your doctor may just prescribe an iron supplement to help your body return to normal levels.