High red blood cell count

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High red blood cell count

Question

What causes a high red blood cell count?

Mary
California

Answer

A normal red blood cell count ranges from 4.7 to 6.1 million cells per microliter (mcl) in males and 4.2 to 5.4 million cells per mcl in females. A high red blood cell count usually suggests that you have too many red blood cells. Although a high red blood cell count is not a specific disease, it may be a sign of an underlying problem. Causes include:

  • Living at a high altitude
  • Smoking
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Failure of the right side of the heart (cor pulmonale)
  • Scarring and thickening of the lung tissue (pulmonary fibrosis)
  • A rare bone marrow disorder (polycythemia vera)
  • Dehydration, such as from severe diarrhea or excessive sweating
  • Kidney disease
  • Exposure to carbon monoxide
  • Anabolic steroid use

In severe cases, a high red blood cell count can impair circulation and lead to abnormal clotting. Treatment of a high red blood cell count is directed at the underlying cause.

Last Updated: 08/30/2006
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