A high red blood cell count indicates that the number of oxygen-carrying cells in your bloodstream has increased. Red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to all of your body’s tissues. A high red blood cell count can occur as a result of a condition that decreases your oxygen supply or as a result of a condition that boosts red blood cell production directly.
Normal red blood cell counts are:
- For men, 4.7 to 6.1 million red blood cells per microliter of blood
- For women, 4.2 to 5.4 million red blood cells per microliter of blood
- For children, 4.0 to 5.5 million red blood cells per microliter of blood
Causes of High Red Blood Cell Count
- Heart failure
- Congenital heart disease
- Polycythemia vera (a blood disorder in which the bone marrow produces too many red blood cells)
- Kidney tumors
- Lung disease, such as emphysema, COPD, pulmonary fibrosis
- Carbon monoxide exposure
- Smoking cigarettes
- Living at a high altitude
- Taking anabolic steroids or erythropoietin
When To See The Doctor
A high red blood cell count is typically discovered as a result of testing done by your doctor to assist in diagnosing a condition you have. Consult with your doctor to determine the significance of your test results. A high red blood cell count and other test results may help determine the cause of your disease. Alternatively, your doctor may recommend extra tests to monitor your condition.
Treatment of High Red Blood Cell Count
If your doctor determines that a medical problem is producing an elevated red blood cell count, he or she may propose a procedure or medication to bring it down.
A health worker performs phlebotomy, which involves inserting a needle into a vein and draining blood through a tube into a bag or container. You may need to continue this process until your red blood cell count returns to normal.
If you are diagnosed with polycythemia vera, your doctor may additionally prescribe a medication called hydroxyurea to limit your body’s red blood cell production. While using hydroxyurea, you should see your doctor periodically to ensure that your red blood cell count does not go too low.