MCHC: What It Is, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and More

Published April 25th, 2022 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Erik Rivera
Medically Reviewed:
Dr. Angel Rivera

Mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC) is a measure of the average amount of hemoglobin in red blood cells with hemoglobin being responsible for transporting oxygen throughout your body.

Low MCHC levels can indicate anemia, which is a condition that occurs when there are not enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your body's tissues.

Also, low MCHC levels can cause a variety of symptoms, depending on the underlying cause and, in some cases, it may require treatment.

In this article, we will discuss what MCHC is, what causes low MCHC levels, and how they are treated.

mchc image

What does MCHC mean?

As noted above, MCHC stands for mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration.

Hemoglobin is a protein that carries oxygen in your blood from your respiratory system.

Low levels of hemoglobin can indicate that you may have anemia which causes fatigue and other symptoms.

What are the symptoms of low MCHC?

There are a number of different symptoms that you may display if you have a low concentration of hemoglobin, these include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Being tired constantly
  • Pale skin, flushed skin, or even yellow skin
  • Pale gums
  • Fast heartbeat or irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Chest pain
  • Bruising easily
  • Cold feet and hands

If you have these symptoms and are concerned about low MCHC levels, please contact your doctor or health care provider.

What causes low MCHC?

Anemia is the primary cause of low levels of MCHC, although there are several different types which we will detail below.

The reason you may have anemia is due to a deficiency in iron, folic acid, or vitamin B12.

You can also have anemia if you lose blood quickly, are pregnant, or if your body does not produce enough red blood cells.

There are several different types of anemias which include:

Iron deficiency anemia

Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia. The lack of iron in your body causes the red blood cells to be smaller and to have less hemoglobin.

Pernicious anemia

If you have pernicious anemia, also called vitamin B12 anemia, it means that your body does not have enough vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 is found in animal products such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and milk and this type of anemia can be caused by a lack of this vitamin in your diet or your body not being able to absorb B12.

Aplastic anemia

Aplastic anemia is a rare type of anemia and it occurs when your body has a low number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets which can be caused by certain medications, cancer, or autoimmune diseases.

Hemolytic anemia

Hemolytic anemia is another rare type of anemia and it occurs when your red blood cells are destroyed before the end of their lifespan and your bone marrow can not replace them fast enough.

The different medical problems besides anemia that can lead to low levels of MCHC include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Cancer
  • Tumors in your intestines
  • Inflammation disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Liver disorders such as porphyria
  • Bone marrow disorders
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Lead poisoning
  • Parasitic infections
  • Thalassemia, which is a group of blood disorders that decreases hemoglobin production
  • Vasculitis, which is a group of disorders that destroys your blood vessels and causes inflammation
  • Hemolysis, which is the destruction of blood cells and can be caused many things and it often leads to sepsis

How do doctors diagnose low MCHC levels?

In order to diagnose low MCHC levels, your doctor will likely do a physical examination and ask you about your medical history.

If anemia is thought to be caused by a deficiency, your doctor may ask about your diet and if you have been taking any supplements.

They will also order a blood test in order to check the hemoglobin, hematocrit, mean corpuscular volume (MCV), mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH), and mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC) levels.

Additional blood tests such as a complete blood count (CBC) may also be used, which is a blood cell count used to assess if you are in the normal range for red blood cells and white blood cells.

The blood test will also check for anemia, iron deficiency, vitamin B12, folate, ferritin, and other things that may indicate anemia.

If blood loss is thought to be the issue your doctor may ask if you have long, heavy, menstrual cycles if you are a woman or if you have rectal bleeding.

Your doctor may also perform an endoscopy, which is a camera on a flexible tube that allow them to see your gastrointestinal tract, or an X-ray to search for any internal bleeding.

What are the treatment options for low MCHC levels?

The treatment options for low MCHC levels will depend on the underlying cause of the condition. If you have anemia, your doctor may recommend iron supplements, a change in your diet, or vitamin B12 injections.

If you have pernicious anemia, you will likely need to take vitamin B12 shots or pills for the rest of your life.

If you have aplastic anemia, you may need blood transfusions, immunosuppressive therapy, or stem cell transplantation.

If you have hemolytic anemia, you may need blood transfusions, immunosuppressive therapy, or splenectomy. If your low MCHC levels are caused by another medical condition, such as kidney disease, your doctor will likely treat the underlying condition.

What are the complications of low MCHC levels?

Hypoxia, which is when your body tissues and organs do not get enough oxygen, can be caused by having very low levels of MCHC.

If you have hypoxia, you may experience shortness of breath, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, confusion, or seizures. If not treated quickly, hypoxia can lead to organ damage or death.

Can I prevent low MCHC levels?

There is no guaranteed way to prevent low MCHC levels, but you can help lower your risk by eating a healthy diet, taking supplements if recommended by your doctor, and getting regular checkups.

Taking vitamin B6 will also help as it is needed by your body for the absorption of iron. Vitamin C is also necessary for the production of new blood cells along with vitamin B12 and folate.

If you have an underlying medical condition that can cause low MCHC levels, it is important to manage the condition and take any medications as prescribed.

Summary

MCHC is the mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration and it is a measure of the level of hemoglobin in your red blood cells.

Low MCHC levels can be caused by several different forms of anemia or other medical conditions like cancer or pregnancy among many others.

The treatment options will depend on the underlying cause. Some potential complications of low MCHC levels include hypoxia and organ damage.

You can help lower your risk by eating a healthy diet, taking supplements if recommended by your doctor, and getting regular checkups.

If you have an underlying medical condition that can cause low MCHC levels, it is important to manage the condition and take any medications as prescribed.

If you have any more questions about low levels of MCHC or anemia, please talk to your doctor or medical provider.

References and Sources:

http://www.meddean.luc.edu/lumen/meded/medicine/medclerk/2004_05/level1/cbcanemia/cbclesson.htm

https://labtestsonline.org/tests/red-cell-indices

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/upper-gastrointestinal-series

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