MCV Blood Test: What the Results Tell You About Your Health

MCV is one of many tests that make up a standard complete blood count. Your mean corpuscular volume is a number which can increase or decrease depending on the average size of your red blood cells.

mcv blood test

“MCV” may be some acronym you might come across in your blood test results. Mean corpuscular volume (MCV) refers to the average volume of red blood cells (RBC). MCV is one of many tests that make up a standard complete blood count. Your mean corpuscular volume is a number which can increase or decrease depending on the average size of your red blood cells. A low MCV can be as low as 60 femtoliters, normal MCV can be around 80 femtoliters, and high MCV can be as high as 150 femtoliters. The MCV results are gathered after a blood test. A doctor than uses the results to determine the cause of anemia.

What is Mean Corpuscular Volume?

Mean corpuscular volume, or mean cell volume (MCV) refers to the average volume of red blood cells (or corpuscle). MCV results are gathered after you have a blood test. A needle extracts blood from you. This is then stored in a tube.

The MCV blood test is one of many tests done when you take a blood test. It is part of a standard complete blood count or CBC. The CBC is a blood test that is used to examine your blood cells’ composition and quality. Blood cells include white blood cells or leukocytes which can help fight infections, and red blood cells or erythrocytes which help deliver oxygen to different parts of your body, and platelets or thrombocytes which help clot your blood.

The MCV blood test is used with other red blood cell indices, such as mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH), mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC), mean corpuscular volume (MCV), and red blood cell distribution width (RDW). RBC indices are measurements and calculations for determining the content, hemoglobin concentration, and size of your red blood cells. You can learn a lot from these RBC indices as they can tell you about your red blood cells. MCH results have an association with your MCV results, because bigger red blood cells usually contain more hemoglobin. Smaller red blood cells tend to contain less hemoglobin.

These RBC indices also help determine the cause of anemia, along with other medical conditions. These tests are used to help classify the particular cause of anemia based on red blood cell morphology. Indices are useful in the morphologic characterization of anemia. MCV is the most useful calculation for classifying what type of anemia a person has, based on red blood cell morphology. The MCV measurement can classify anemia as microcytic anemia, normal anemia, or macrocytic anemia.

Mean Corpuscular Volume in Anemia

It is important to take note that in the context of anemia, guidelines are helpful but they have their limitations as well. Whatever results come out of these tests have to be interpreted appropriately. Alone, the set standards of classifications of normal and abnormal ranges are not enough to arrive to a conclusion of a diagnosis. Once anemia is considered a possibility, there needs to be a correlation with other clinical findings which include a person’s patient history and physical examination. In some cases, more tests may be given to arrive at a diagnosis. A formal diagnosis will be only be given to you after a healthcare professional has interpreted the tests results properly.

The mean corpuscular volume is tied to the actual size of your red blood cells. Your MCV can be in the low, normal, or high range. A general rule for a normal range for MCV would be from 80 to 96 femtoliters per cell. Ranges may vary, as how they are set depends on the laboratory that processes the test and the patient’s age. The MCV is measured by an automated hematology analyzer. It can also be calculated from hematocrit (Hct).

Here are the MCV classifications:

Low Mean Corpuscular Volume

A low MCV means that you have a small average red blood cell size. A low MCV can be as low as 60 femtoliters. This condition is referred to as microcytic. There are many conditions that can cause low MCV.

The following are some causes of low MCV:

  • anemia of chronic disease
  • giant cell arteritis
  • lead poisoning
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • thalassemia

Normal Mean Corpuscular Volume

A normal MCV means that you have a normal average red blood cell size. This condition is referred to as normocytic. Even if you have a normal MCV, you can still have a condition known as normocytic anemia. This is because the body’s bone marrow has not yet affected the body’s cell volume.

The following conditions can cause Normocytic anemia:

  • hemolytic anemia
  • kidney failure
  • nutritional deficiencies
  • sudden blood loss

High Mean Corpuscular Volume

A high MCV means that you have a large average red blood cell size. A high MCV can be as much as 150 femtoliters. This condition is referred to as macrocytic. Having a high MCV can be caused by many conditions.

The following are some causes of high MCV:

  • alcoholism
  • folate deficiency (take note that both B12 deficiency and folate deficiencies are also called megaloblastic anemia)
  • hypothyroidism
  • liver disease
  • medications, such as chemotherapy drugs and retroviral therapy for HIV

All About Anemia

Anemia can occur if the amount of your healthy red blood cells is too low. The main types of anemia can be classified based on the red blood cell morphology, and their common causes.

Microcytic and Hypochromic Anemia

Microcytic and Hypochromic Anemia is when you have decreased MCV and MCH.

Here are the common causes:

  • anemia of chronic disease
  • iron deficiency anemia
  • sideroblastic anemia
  • thalassemia

Macrocytic Anemia

Macrocytic anemia is when you have increased MCV.

Here are the common causes:

  • aplastic anemia
  • excessive alcohol intake
  • folate deficiency anemia
  • hemolytic anemias
  • hypothyroidism
  • liver disease
  • myelodysplastic syndrome
  • vitamin B12 deficiency anemia

Normocytic and Normochromic Anemia

Normocytic and normochromic anemia can occur even if you have a MCV in the normal range.

Here are the common causes:

  • acute blood loss
  • anemia of chronic disease
  • anemia of renal disease
  • aplastic anemia
  • hemolytic anemia, such as autoimmune hemolytic anemia, hereditary spherocytosis, or nonspherocytic congenital hemolytic anemia

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