A low mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC) means red blood cells do not have enough hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein and low MCHC may indicate anemia.
Hemoglobin is responsible for the red color in blood and for circulating oxygen around the body. The lack of oxygen caused by a low hemoglobin concentration may cause fatigue and other anemia symptoms.
The mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC) test is a standard part of the complete blood count (CBC) that is done during blood analysis, and the MCHC value is used to evaluate the severity and cause of anemia.
Low hemoglobin may help a doctor determine the cause of a person’s anemia, although doctors will not treat the condition based on a low MCHC alone.
Anemia is characterized by a low level of hemoglobin. This may be caused by normal conditions, such as pregnancy, or an iron-deficient diet. In rare cases, it may be caused by life-threatening illnesses, including cancer.
Factors that cause low levels of hemoglobin include:
- fewer blood cells being produced
- red blood cells being destroyed faster than they can be produced
- blood loss
The following types of anemia are associated with a low hemoglobin concentration:
Iron deficiency anemia
This condition can be caused by an iron-deficient diet or an inability to absorb iron. When less iron is available for red blood cell development, the red blood cells become smaller and paler.
This condition is characterized by a reduced number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
In rare cases, anemia may point to other more serious conditions, including:
- cancer or leukemia treatments
- bone marrow defects
- gastrointestinal tumors
- kidney and liver disease
- inflammatory disorders
Kidney disease may cause anemia because the kidneys are not able to produce enough erythropoietin. This is a hormone that signals the bone marrow to make red blood cells.
Chemotherapy for cancer treatment may also affect the production of new red blood cells, resulting in anemia.
The following medical conditions can destroy red blood cells faster than they can be made:
A slightly low hemoglobin concentration does not always produce noticeable symptoms and may not always be a sign of illness. Some people are unaware that they have low hemoglobin until they have a routine blood screening.
Other people may develop noticeable symptoms, including:
- weakness and fatigue
- shortness of breath
- pale skin and gums
- fast or irregular heartbeat
- cold hands or feet
- dizziness or headache
- lack of concentration
- chest pain
These symptoms will alert a doctor to the possibility of anemia.
There are many underlying causes of anemia. The first step in developing a treatment plan is to establish what type of anemia is present and to assess its severity. An MCHC test will help point a doctor in the right direction.
Anemia is diagnosed when the hemoglobin value is less than 13.5 grams per deciliter (g/dL) in men or less than 12.0 g/dL in women. In children, normal hemoglobin values vary with age.
A doctor may also check the following values:
Folate and vitamin B-12 help the body produce red blood cells. Ferritin is an iron-containing blood protein, while iron saturation is the amount of iron that is available to use.
A synthetic form of the human erythropoietin protein can
While this treatment has been approved by the FDA for some applications, such as anemia caused by chemotherapy, it has not been approved for all types of anemia. It is still prescribed if necessary to avoid blood transfusions.
Red meat, poultry, and seafood are all good sources of iron. Vegetarians and vegans may need to increase iron intake with beans, lentils, tofu, and peas.
Iron-fortified food products can also be helpful. These include cereals, soya, nut milks, and some orange juice brands.
Below are some commonly asked questions about low MCHC in blood tests:
Should a person be worried if their MCHC is low?
Low MCHC levels in a blood test may indicate iron-deficiency anemia. However, in some cases, it may point to a more serious underlying condition, such as celiac disease or cancer.
What cancers are associated with low MCHC?
Cancers that involve the bone marrow, like leukemia or lymphoma, are often associated with low hemoglobin. Similarly, cancers prone to causing bleeding, such as colon and stomach cancer, are associated with low MCHC.
What level of MCHC is concerning?
A typical MCHC reference range is 33-36 g/dL. However, this may vary according to the lab.
Many types of anemia are mild and easily treated. Some types may last a lifetime but can be managed with medication and dietary changes.
The MCHC test can help a doctor determine the cause and severity of anemia. While a low hemoglobin level may help identify anemia, treatment will be based on a various factors, including the individual’s general health and any underlying health conditions.