Understanding MCHC Blood Test Results

The blood test can be helpful in diagnosing anemia.

Mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC) is a measurement of the amount of hemoglobin a red blood cell has relative to the cell's volume. Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body.

Measuring hemoglobin through an MCHC blood test can help determine whether you have a medical condition, for MCHC levels that are too low or high can signal several conditions. In fact, MCHC is a standard measurement in the diagnosis of anemia, a condition marked by low levels of red blood cells and that can cause tiredness or weakness.

A man draws blood from a woman's arm

Anchiy / Getty Images

Understanding Your Results 

MCHC is one of the measurements taken during a complete blood count (CBC). A CBC is a common blood test. Your healthcare provider might order one for you to help diagnose or monitor certain conditions. You might also hear a CBC be referred to as a full blood count.

Once your CBC test results are ready, you and your provider will be able to see your MCHC. 

The normal range for MCHC is 32 to 36 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or 320 to 360 grams per liter (g/L). Since different laboratories might use different measurements or blood samples, you should talk with your healthcare provider about what a normal range is for you.

An MCHC that is below or above the normal range can develop for a number of reasons.

Causes of Low MCHC

MCHC measurements that are below the normal range can be a sign of iron-deficiency anemia. Iron-deficiency anemia develops when you don’t have enough iron in your body. You need iron to make red blood cells. A lack of iron can impact the production of healthy red blood cells and, thus, your MCHC levels.  

Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia. It can develop when there is:

  • Trouble absorbing iron: This can be the effect of endurance sports, digestive conditions, and certain genetic conditions.
  • Kidney disease: With this, your kidneys don’t make enough erythropoietin, a substance needed to make red blood cells.
  • Chronic inflammation: Conditions that cause long-lasting inflammation can make it hard for your body to use iron.

Low MCHC can also be due to thalassemia. Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder in which the body does not make enough hemoglobin.

Causes of High MCHC 

Depending on the kind you have, anemia may cause high MCHC. Hemolytic anemia may lead to an MCHC measurement above the normal range. Hemolytic anemia develops when red blood cells break down faster than they can be replaced. This type of anemia can happen for a number of reasons, including:

Higher-than-normal MCHC results may also be attributable to hereditary spherocytosis, a rare genetic condition in which the body makes abnormally shaped red blood cells.

Editor’s Note: Even if your MCHC is within a normal range, it is still possible to have a certain type of anemia. With normocytic normochromic anemia, the circulating red blood cells are the same size (normocytic) and have a normal red color (normochromic). This type of anemia can develop for multiple reasons, including acute blood loss and kidney disease.

What to Expect When Taking an MCHC Blood Test 

A healthcare provider will perform an MCHC blood test by drawing blood as part of a CBC. No preparation is needed prior to a CBC. However, if your healthcare provider has ordered other tests in addition to a CBC, you may need to fast for several hours before that test. Your provider will let you know if there are any special instructions to follow.

Using a small needle, a healthcare provider will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm. The small amount of blood that the needle takes is collected into a vial. As the needle goes in or out, you may feel a slight sting. The entire process usually takes less than five minutes.

After the test, you may experience bruising or mild pain where the needle was inserted. You might also feel dizzy for a brief period of time.

Related Blood Tests 

MCHC is just one measurement of red blood cells included in a CBC. A CBC includes other tests to measure the size, shape, and quality of your red blood cells. As a collective, these measurements are called red blood cell indices. The indices can help diagnose anemia.

Besides MCHC, other red blood cell indices are:

  • Mean corpuscular volume (MCV): Measures of the average size of your red blood cells
  • Mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH): Measures the average amount of hemoglobin per red blood cell
  • Red cell distribution width (RDW): Measures differences in the volume and size of your red blood cells 

Next Steps

If your MCHC is above or below the normal range, your healthcare provider will likely talk with you about potential causes and, if needed, treatment plans to address the cause. Any treatment plan would depend on what condition is behind the abnormal MCHC readings.

Anemia is usually what’s associated with abnormal MCHC levels. If a healthcare provider determines that anemia is the cause of your low or high MCHC levels, they will want to figure out what is causing the anemia and treat that cause. Treatments for anemia and the conditions that cause it may include:

  • Medication
  • Dietary supplements
  • Blood transfusion
  • Blood or bone marrow transplant

Editor’s Note: Low levels of MCHC have been shown to be associated with poorer outcomes among people hospitalized with acute heart attack or acute pulmonary embolism. Research has found that people with either of these conditions who also had low MCHC were more likely to die within 30 days to a year from the event. Low MCHC levels may be a predictor in outcome of certain cases of heart attack or pulmonary embolism.

A Quick Review

The MCHC is a measurement of the amount of hemoglobin a red blood cell has relative to the size of the cell. MCHC below or above the normal limit may be a sign of anemia, meaning you do not have enough healthy red blood cells. MCHC is a test that is part of a CBC. Your healthcare provider may order a CBC as part of a routine exam or if you have symptoms of anemia, a family history of a blood disorder, or a diet low in iron. The test is quick and requires no preparation. Depending on your results, your healthcare provider might talk to you about the potential cause of a high or low reading. And depending on any symptoms you may have and your past medical history, they will likely talk to you about treatment options to address your anemia.

Was this page helpful?
Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. Red blood cell (RBC) indices.

  2. MedlinePlus. Hemoglobin

  3. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What is anemia?

  4. MedlinePlus. RBC indices.

  5. National Cancer Institute. Complete blood count.

  6. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Iron-deficiency anemia.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is thalassemia? 

  8. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Hemolytic anemia.

  9. Zamora EA, Schaefer CA. Hereditary spherocytosis. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  10. Yilmaz G, Shaikh H. Normochromic normocytic anemia. In: StatPearls. StatPearls 2022.

  11. MedlinePlus. Hemoglobin test.

  12. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Anemia - treatment and management.

  13. Ruan Z, Li D, Hu Y, Qiu Z, Chen X. The association between mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration and prognosis in patients with acute pulmonary embolism: a retrospective cohort study. Clin Appl Thromb Hemost. 2022;28:10760296221103867. doi:10.1177/10760296221103867

  14. Huang Y,  Hu Z. Lower mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration is associated with poorer outcomes in intensive care unit admitted patients with acute myocardial infarction. 2016;4(10):190. doi:10.21037/atm.2016.03.42

Related Articles