Causes Of High Hemoglobin Levels: Symptoms & Treatment Options

Hemoglobin is a pigment that gives blood its red color. It is a protein present in red blood cells. It occupies major area in red blood cells. Hemoglobin is vital component of blood as it combines with oxygen and carries it to every cell and tissue in the body. To maintain health, hemoglobin is desired to remain within its normal range.

Hemoglobin is measured in grams per deciliter of blood. The normal reference range of hemoglobin in adult male is 14 to 18 g/dl. In adult women it is 12 to 15g/dl.

Any number below or above these range is considered abnormal.

You may have seen and heard many people having low hemoglobin level, but you may seldom have heard people having high hemoglobin. High hemoglobin level is rare but when it occurs it can be due to several causes. Just as low hemoglobin is not healthy for body, high hemoglobin is also detrimental for health. Hemoglobin level above 18 g/dl in males and 15g/ dl in females is considered to be high.

What Can Cause High Hemoglobin Levels?

Abnormal high level of hemoglobin although uncommon can have devastating effect on health.

It increases viscosity of blood which may result in disruption in circulation or increase clotting. Here are some causes of elevated hemoglobin level;

  • Polycythemia vera is a bone marrow disease marked by raised level of hemoglobin.
  • In dehydration hemoglobin becomes concentrated. Usually it is temporary rise of hemoglobin which returns back to normal once the body is re-hydrated with fluids.
  • Hemoglobin level is raised in heart ailments which include congestive cardiac failure, congenital heart disease etc.
  • High hemoglobin level is also observed in lung diseases such as fibrosis of lungs and emphysema.
  • Release of excess erythropoietin hormone by the kidney can also cause elevated hemoglobin level.
  • High concentration of hemoglobin is also observed in people living at high altitudes where oxygen level is low. Body responses to low level of oxygen in atmosphere by increasing production of red blood cells, thus rise in hemoglobin level.
  • Smoking is one of the major causes for abnormal rise of hemoglobin level in blood. Smoking damages the tiny alveoli in the lungs that are responsible for oxygen saturation. Low oxygen level triggers increase production of hemoglobin to abnormal level, especially in chronic smokers.
  • Abuse of anabolic steroids can cause high level of hemoglobin in the body.

Symptoms Of High Hemoglobin Levels

High hemoglobin level in most cases is detected by chance, when your doctor suggests for a blood test for hemoglobin. Patient may present with subtle symptoms and often they are recognized by him. Following are few important symptoms;

  • Impairment of mental function leading to mild memory loss, dizziness, confusion, etc.
  • Cyanosis in peripheral area of body. Lips, nails, tongue and fingertips become blue.
  • Swelling in lower limbs.
  • Weakness and fatigue.
  • Itching all over body without any reason, especially after bathing.
  • Easy bruising.
  • Increased blood clotting leading to swelling, numbness in body parts, temporary loss of vision etc.

Treatment For High Hemoglobin Levels

Treatment of high level of hemoglobin depends on the underlying cause. Patient needs to follow recommended instructions by his doctor. In cases such as dehydration the level can be brought back to normal with proper re-hydration with fluids.

In polycythmia vera some amount of blood is let out through phlebotomy. As there is an increased red blood cell the viscosity of blood is raised. The risk of thrombus formation increases which may cause catastrophic event such as stroke, heart attack, pulmonary embolism etc.