When you go into a doctor's office for your yearly wellness check-up or because you are experiencing odd symptoms, your doctor may choose to order a complete blood count (CBC) test. A CBC will show the doctor the amount of hemoglobin in your blood as well as your white blood cell (WBC) count and your red blood cell (RBC) count. If your test results show that you have an abnormally high amount of RBCs in your body, a variety of issues may be the culprit.
Having a high RBC count may be an indication that you are having heart problems. If there are any abnormalities in your heart valves, your heart may have to work extra hard to let blood flow from one side of the heart to the other. You could also be suffering from congestive heart failure due to weak heart muscles. Although high RBC count is one sign of both of these conditions, it is not enough to make a diagnosis. Your doctor will need to perform other tests which may include an echocardiogram or a chest x-ray.
If you are a smoker you may have already considered quitting because you are afraid of cancer or lung problems. It may surprise you to know that smoking can also be the cause of high RBC count on a CBC test. If your RBC levels remain high you can be at risk for experiencing unpleasant symptoms including headaches, stomach pain and dizziness. Smoking also raises your risk for heart disease which can elevate your RBC count even more.
Steroid use can raise your RBC count. Your doctor may prescribe steroids to treat a series of medical conditions including cancer and hormone issues. If you are using a steroid medication under your doctor's orders, your healthcare provider will monitor your progress. The benefits of the steroids may outweigh the fact that your RBC count is elevated. If you are using steroids for athletic purposes however, you should discontinue use. Enhancing your athletic performance is not worth damaging your body.
High RBC can also be indicative of dehydration. It is not a good idea to schedule a standard blood test during times when you may be extra dehydrated such as when you are experiencing cold symptoms or are suffering from allergies. If your RBC count results are high and you have no other strange signs or symptoms, dehydration may be the culprit. If your doctor is concerned, he may ask you to go in for another CBC once you have recovered from your cold. If additional symptoms are accompanying your high RBCs your doctor will likely perform more tests to get to the core of your health problems.