Red Blood Cell Indices
(RBC Indices)

Alternate Names

  • Blood Indices
  • MCH (Mean Corpuscular Hemoglobin)
  • MCHC (Mean Corpuscular Hemoglobin Concentration)
  • MCV (Mean Corpuscular Volume)

Red blood cells (RBCs) are made in the bone marrow and are necessary for the transport of oxygen to all cells of the body and carbon dioxide as a waste product to the lungs for removal from the body. Red Blood Cell Indices measure certain characteristics of RBCs: MCV and RDW measure the size of RBCs, MCH measures their weight, while MCHC measures how many RBCs are in a certain amount of fluid (concentration). These indices are then used to diagnose anemias and monitor your response to treatment. RBC indices will also be abnormal with lead poisoning.

Low MCV (mean corpuscular volume) values are seen in people with anemias due to iron deficiency or chronic illnesses such as cancer or massive infection, or thalassemia; high values are seen in people with deficiencies in vitamin B12 (pernicious anemia) or folic acid, chronic alcohol abuse, or liver diseases.

Low MCH (mean corpuscular hemoglobin) values are seen in people with anemia due to either abnormally small RBCs or low numbers of RBCs; high MCH are seen in people with anemia due to abnormally large RBCs.

Low MCHC (mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration) values are seen in people with thalassemia, or anemia due to low iron; high MCHC levels are seen in people with conditions that cause the breakdown of RBCs (hemolytic anemia) such as artificial heart valves or plaques in the blood vessels from high cholesterol, spherocytosis, or cold agglutinins.

High RDW (red blood cell distribution) values are seen in people with hemolytic anemia, deficiencies of vitamin B12 (pernicious anemia) or folic acid, sickle cell anemia, or following excessive bleeding due to trauma, surgery, or illness.

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