Red blood cells are one of the major components of blood, along with white blood cells and platelets. Red blood cells help carry oxygen throughout the body.
Doctors measure your red blood cell count to help diagnose medical conditions and learn more about your health. A high red blood cell count means the number of red blood cells in your bloodstream is higher than normal. Normal red blood cell counts are:
Doctors typically find a high red blood cell count during tests for another health issue. You may need more tests to determine what’s causing the higher levels. These may include tests to look for conditions that cause your body to produce too many red blood cells, such as heart failure, or disorders that restrict your oxygen supply, such as sleep apnea.
A high red blood cell count may be a symptom of a disease or disorder, although it doesn’t always indicate a health problem. Health or lifestyle factors can cause a high red blood cell count.
Medical conditions that can cause an increase in red blood cells include:
Lifestyle factors that can cause a high red blood cell count include:
If a medical condition is causing a high red blood cell count, your doctor may recommend a procedure or medication to lower it.
In a procedure called a phlebotomy, a health professional inserts a needle into your vein and drains blood through a tube into a bag or container. You might need to have this procedure on a repeated basis until your red blood cell level is close to normal.
If you are diagnosed with the bone marrow disease polycythemia vera, your doctor may also prescribe a medicine called hydroxyurea to slow your body’s production of red blood cells. You’ll need to see your doctor regularly while taking hydroxyurea to be sure your red blood cell level does not drop too low.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 05/02/2018