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Causes and Symptoms of High Hemoglobin

High hemoglobin refers to high (above average) concentration of oxygen-carrying proteins in the blood. To understand the risk associated with the condition, it is important to know its causes and symptoms.
Loveleena Rajeev
Last Updated: Mar 12, 2018
Hemoglobin is the protein molecule (oxygen carrier) present in the red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to different tissues of the body, and return carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs. Usually, hemoglobin is measured as a part of the Complete Blood Count (CBC) test. The level of hemoglobin is expressed as the amount of hemoglobin in g/dL (grams per deciliter) of blood. Normal reference range for hemoglobin for children, men and women are 11-13 g/dL, 14-18 g/dL, and 12-16 g/dL respectively.
Possible Causes of High Hemoglobin Count
High hemoglobin count differs from high red blood cell count, as each cell may carry the same amount of oxygen. Therefore, it is normal if one has a high hemoglobin count, despite having a low blood count. An elevated hemoglobin count is observed when there is an increased red blood cell production, to compensate for low oxygen in the blood required by the tissues.
  • Sometimes, the kidney releases too much erythropoietin, resulting in a high red blood cell count.
  • Polycythemia vera, a dysfunctional bone marrow disease, also increases red blood cell production.
  • Acute dehydration can cause high hemoglobin, however, hemoglobin levels return to normal, once the fluid balance is restored.
  • Congenital heart disease, heart failure, cor pulmonale, and other heart problems, associated with high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs, can also increase hemoglobin levels.
  • Pulmonary fibrosis, which is a condition that is characterized by formation of excess fibrous connective tissues in the lungs, also tends to increase hemoglobin levels.
  • Emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other lung diseases could also be contributing factors for high levels of hemoglobin.
  • People living in high altitudes also have high levels of hemoglobin, as high altitude means lesser level of oxygen, resulting in increased production of blood cells.
  • Anabolic steroids that are used for increasing muscle mass, along with certain drugs can also stimulate red blood cell production.
  • Kidney and liver cancer may also lead to elevated hemoglobin levels in the blood.
  • Smoking drops the level of oxygen in the lungs, so to balance out the deficiency, the body raises levels of hemoglobin.
Associated Symptoms
A high hemoglobin count could indicate an illness, and the doctor will recommend tests, if one is experiencing any of the following symptoms:
  • Impaired Mental Function: Dysfunctional cognition, dizziness, and mental confusion can be due to high hemoglobin levels, as oxygen is compromised in the cerebral blood circulation.
  • Peripheral Cyanosis: Bluish discoloration on the skin, normally occurring on the lips and fingertips.
  • Impaired Circulation and Abnormal Clotting: Slow circulation and blood clotting affects the entire body. Swelling, sudden numbness, temporary loss of vision or hearing is experienced by some people.
High hemoglobin can also affect the shape of red blood cells, leading to sickle cell disease. As elevated hemoglobin in the body is usually a symptom of an underlying disease, physicians basically concentrate on treating the disease so that the symptom is automatically taken care of. One must regularly check the level of hemoglobin, and any deviation from normal hemoglobin levels must be discussed with the physician, so that timely treatment can be provided.