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What do low or high hematocrit levels signify?

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Quick Answer

A low hematocrit, or anemia, indicates an abnormally low percentage of red blood cells in the blood, explains eMedicineHealth. Conversely, a high hematocrit means the percentage of red blood cells is abnormally high. Both conditions are associated with numerous medical issues.

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Full Answer

Bleeding, either due to an injury or a medical condition that causes internal bleeding, such as an ulcer or cancer, sometimes causes a low hematocrit, states eMedicineHealth. Additionally, nutritional deficiencies, such as malnutrition or diets that contain inadequate amounts of iron, folate or vitamin B-12, cause low hematocrit in some people. Decreased production of red blood cells by the bone marrow due to cancer or the effects of some drugs can lead to anemia, as can increased destruction of red blood cells by conditions such as sickle cell disease.

The most common causes of a high hematocrit are dehydration, chronic lack of oxygen, congenital heart defects and overproduction of red blood cells, explains eMedicineHealth. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic sleep apnea also cause a high hematocrit. People who use anabolic steroids or self-inject erythropoetin to enhance athletic performance, a practice known as EPO doping, also frequently have high hematocrit levels, reports Mayo Clinic.

Anemia is a common condition that effects one in 10 teenage girls and women, says WebMD. Symptoms of anemia include pallor, fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness and a rapid heartbeat, especially during exercise. A high hematocrit causes no specific symptoms. Doctors usually detect it when evaluating an underlying medical condition, states Mayo Clinic.

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