What Does an Elevated Hemoglobin Count Mean?

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Elevated hemoglobin levels mean the patient has low oxygen levels, which can be attributed to impaired heart or lung function, according to the Mayo Clinic. Hemoglobin counts can also elevate from living in or visiting high altitude areas. Dehydration, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart failure increase hemoglobin concentration as well.

According to the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, hemoglobin is a type of protein found in the body’s red blood cells. Hemoglobin gives red blood cells their red appearance. It also takes the oxygen from the lungs and carries it to the rest of the body. In addition, hemoglobin helps remove small amounts of carbon dioxide from the body.

Red blood cell production increases in response to a lack of oxygen, according to the Mayo Clinic. This happens to people with poor heart and lung function. Since areas with high altitude lack oxygen, those who live or visit there may also develop higher hemoglobin counts. Unfortunately, COPD, emphysema, heart disease and liver cancer increase the body’s concentration of hemoglobin as well.

Elevated hemoglobin counts can be influenced directly. According to MedicineNet, dehydration temporarily leads to falsely high hemoglobin counts. Once rehydrated, however, a hemoglobin count returns to normal. In addition, a few athletes illegally practice blood doping with erythropoietin, artificially increasing the amount of red blood cells they have during competition.