Hematocrit is a component of the blood that can affect your health if you have either too much or too little. It is the measure of total blood volume, with balanced levels needed to aid in the transport of oxygen and nutrients to various locations in the body.
Many factors and circumstances affect whether a measure of hematocrit is considered normal or not, as no single number can represent everybody. Normal values of hematocrit vary according to age, sex, pregnancy, and can even vary depending on where you live, such as higher altitudes where decreased oxygen in the atmosphere increases demand for the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells. The following are reported ranges of normal hematocrit levels:
Low levels of hematocrit signal that the percentage of red blood cells is below the limit of normal—potentially leading to further complication as a result. Having low levels is often a criteria of anemia, where a decrease in the overall volume of red blood cells leads to adverse symptoms. Having a measurement of low hematocrit may be a sign of any of the following:
Having a high hematocrit means the percentage of red blood cells in a person’s blood is in the upper limits of what is considered normal. This may be a transient phenomenon, possibly due to recent blood transfection effectively increasing hematocrit levels, or even a normal symptom of pregnancy. The follow are other conditions that a high hematocrit level may indicate:
Testing hematocrit level determines the percentage of red blood cells (RBCs) in the blood. Various conditions such as anemia can cause a decrease in the RBC volume, with a simple blood sample test being all that is needed to measure this value among other criteria for the condition. Other conditions may also benefit from hematocrit measurement, as mentioned above. Knowing the hematocrit level can help make a diagnosis and aid in treatment decisions.
Once blood is taken, it is sent to a lab that measures every component in the blood, referred to as a complete blood count (CBC). This lab test conveniently compiles the various numerical values for hematocrit as well as other blood cell types including hemoglobin, white blood cells, and platelets.
Typically, a nurse or a medical provider will be the one taking the blood sample and is usually taking from the vein to ensure an adequate amount is taken. A visible vein is located on the inside of your elbow, with antiseptic used to sterilize the site, and a rubber band tourniquet strapped to the upper arm to ensure adequate blood collection.
Next, a needle is inserted into the selected vein to collect the blood sample which normally takes less than a minute or so. You will then be told to hold a cotton ball on the site of injection, with a bandage to go over it. The insertion of a needle may feel uncomfortable but it is over relatively quickly.
The treatment of either low or high hematocrit will depend wholly on the underlying cause of its occurrence, your overall health, and the current hematocrit level measured. Most individuals found to have borderline abnormal levels of hematocrit may not be treated with medical treatment or procedures at all. However, more severe cases may need intravenous iron, blood transfusions, or medications to help stimulate the production of red blood cells in bone marrow.
You doctor will make the ultimate decision of what treatment modality to choose. They will weight various contributing factors such as age, sex, and current health status to best choose a treatment plan to suit you adequately.