How to understand hematocrit test results?

May 27, 2010

The hematocrit is the quantity of red blood cells in any given quantity of blood as a percentage of the blood that is being tested. The value is represented in percentage form and may be close to 50% for men and close to 40% for women. It is a test that is conducted as a part of a normal blood evaluation where values for the concentration of other components of blood such as hemoglobin, white blood cells and platelets. This test may be ordered if a patient is suffering from symptoms of anemia, polycythemia and dehydration. During the treatment of any of these conditions, this test may also be performed in order to evaluate the patient and note any improvement or lack of improvement in the condition.

A low level of hematocrit represents anemia. This can be iron deficiency anemia or some other type of anemia. The exact type of anemia affecting a patient may require medical testing to be confirmed. A low hematocrit count may be caused by some types of cancer, blood loss including internal bleeding, vitamin deficiency, mineral deficiency, and cirrhosis of the liver. Low levels of hematocrit could be dangerous if it leads to the reduction of oxygen supply to various parts of the body.

A high level of hematocrit is found in people suffering from dehydration. This is because the water quantity in the blood is reduced due to the lack of water in the person's body. This reduction in water quantity means that, by ratio, the quantity of hematocrit would be higher. This may not necessarily indicate an absolute increase in the quantity of red blood cells, but only a proportional increase. There is, however, a condition known as polycythemia vera which causes the quantity of red blood cells being produced to be higher than normal. This results in higher than normal quantity of red blood cells in the patient's blood.

The cause for polycythemia vera may be a malfunctioning bone marrow. It can also be caused by the body's automatic compensation for oxygen deprivation. If a person is suffering from a lack of oxygen intake or if the person's lung capacity is diminished due to illness or infection, the bone marrow will naturally produce more red blood cells. This would facilitate more oxygen to be absorbed out of the air that is breathed into the lungs. An abnormally high quantity is not necessarily a medical emergency but when this value does not diminish under normal living conditions, it is necessary to consult a doctor for further investigation.

Submitted by M T on May 27, 2010 at 06:07

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