High hemoglobin count: what it means and how to treat it

Hemoglobin is a protein present in red blood cells. This protein binds to oxygen and carbon dioxide, allowing red blood cells to carry these molecules as they flow through blood vessels throughout the body.

Your hemoglobin level can be measured with a blood test. You may be familiar with low levels of hemoglobin as the definition of anemia, but high levels of hemoglobin are not often discussed; read on to learn more.

Hemoglobin (Hgb) blood test

Your hemoglobin can be measured in a sample of your blood. This is part of a routine complete blood count (CBC).

If your doctor orders this test for you, you don’t need to do anything to prepare.

During testing:

  • A healthcare professional will find a vein, usually in your hand or arm, before you collect your blood.
  • They will clean the skin area with an alcohol pad and place a band around your arm.
  • They will then insert a needle to collect blood. The needle should stay in your vein for a minute or less.
  • A healthcare professional will remove the needle and place a bandage on the puncture site. You may be asked to place your finger on the area and apply pressure for a few minutes.
  • You should keep the bandage on for a few hours to make sure the bleeding stops.

If you have other blood tests that require special preparation at the same time, you may be asked to prepare by adjusting your medication or fasting for a few hours before the test.

Normal hemoglobin values ​​vary from laboratory to laboratory. Hemoglobin is usually reported in grams per deciliter (g/dL).

normal hemoglobin value
male 13.5 to 17.5 g/dL
female 12.0 to 15.5 g/dL

high hemoglobin levels

When hemoglobin is high, it can be a sign of certain diseases. Hemoglobin levels can rise if you have too many red blood cells or if your body makes too much hemoglobin.

As a way to compensate for low oxygen levels, your body can produce more than normal amounts of hemoglobin. In addition, certain diseases can cause too much red blood cell production, which can lead to increased hemoglobin levels.

signs and symptoms

Usually, elevated hemoglobin levels do not cause any symptoms. Sometimes, high hemoglobin levels can cause headaches or dizziness. You may experience symptoms of an underlying disorder that is causing your hemoglobin levels to rise. These symptoms can vary depending on the underlying cause.

Causes and Risk Factors

Some medical problems can cause high hemoglobin levels. Many conditions that cause high hemoglobin are chronic, so you and your doctor may already know you have an underlying cause before it affects your hemoglobin.

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Sometimes dehydration can make your hemoglobin level look high when measured by a blood test, even if your total hemoglobin isn’t high. Restoring normal hydration will usually correct your hemoglobin measurements if rechecked.

Lifestyle causes of elevated hemoglobin levels include:

  • Smoking: High hemoglobin levels are common in smokers.
  • High Altitude: When you are at high altitude, the lower oxygen pressure in the environment causes your body to require more hemoglobin to maintain your oxygen requirements.
  • Erythropoietin: This natural kidney hormone stimulates red blood cell production. Some people need to take this hormone to compensate for a physical condition. It has also been abused in certain situations involving physical or athletic performance.

Medical conditions that cause high hemoglobin include:

  • chronic low oxygen levels
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): a group of chronic inflammatory diseases of the lungs
  • heart disease
  • kidney disease
  • liver or kidney cancer
  • polycythemia vera: Blood disorders in which the body produces too many red blood cells

These conditions cause your body to make more red blood cells, which are components of hemoglobin.

medical treatement

Treatment of high hemoglobin levels depends on the cause. For example, if you have cancer, respiratory disease, heart disease or kidney disease, your medical condition will be treated. You may also need separate treatment for elevated hemoglobin levels.

Polycythemia vera is usually treated with a therapeutic phlebotomy, in which one unit of blood is removed (similar to a blood donation). Medication is sometimes given to reduce the number of red blood cells, thereby reducing the effects and complications of the condition.

Diet and Lifestyle Changes

If you have high hemoglobin, it is important to maintain a healthy diet. There are no specific dietary recommendations for lowering hemoglobin.

General guidelines include:

  • stay hydrated
  • avoid drinking alcohol
  • Avoid foods high in sugar or fat
  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein

Eating Right When You Have Polycythemia Vera


Elevated hemoglobin usually causes no symptoms, but can cause complications, including blood clots. High hemoglobin levels are often an indicator of disease. It can occur with polycythemia vera, cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and kidney or liver disease.

Smoking and high altitude can also lead to increased hemoglobin levels. Treatment is usually required for the underlying cause, and sometimes treatment of high hemoglobin levels is especially necessary.

VigorTip words

Hemoglobin can be measured with a blood test. Although low hemoglobin is more common than high hemoglobin, sometimes high hemoglobin can also occur. If you have any abnormalities on your blood tests, be sure to follow up with your healthcare professional so you can diagnose and treat the underlying condition.

READ ALSO:  What is a sickle cell crisis?

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What if my hemoglobin is high?

    Usually, your doctor’s office will call you if you have high hemoglobin levels based on blood tests. The next step depends on your overall health and medical risk factors. You may need repeat hemoglobin tests along with other tests to determine the cause of high hemoglobin levels.

    If you have known causes related to lifestyle factors, such as smoking or spending time at high altitudes, your doctor may recommend that you quit smoking and stay hydrated for better health.

  • Are there any medications that can cause high hemoglobin?

    Erythropoietin is a drug that can be used to raise red blood cells if they are low, and can also lead to high hemoglobin if not used properly.

  • Can dehydration cause high hemoglobin?

    Dehydration can cause you to have high hemoglobin levels on blood tests because it causes your fluid blood volume to be lower compared to your red blood cell count, but not an increase in your red blood cell count.

  • What happens if my hemoglobin level is too high?

    It depends on the reason. If you have a high concentration of red blood cells, your risk of blood clots may be higher than normal. If your hemoglobin count is elevated due to a chronic disease such as cancer or kidney disease, your underlying disease may continue to progress and cause health problems until it is treated.

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VigorTip Health uses only high-quality resources, including peer-reviewed research, to support the facts in our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.

  1. American Red Cross. What does hematocrit mean?

  2. Lee G, Choi S, Kim K, Yun JM, Son JS, Jeong SM, Kim SM, Park SM. Association of hemoglobin concentrations and their changes with cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. J Am Heart Association. 2018;7(3):e007723. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.117.007723

  3. Tefferi A, Barbui T. Polycythemia vera and essential thrombocythemia: 2019 update on diagnosis, risk stratification, and management. Am J Hematol. 2019;94(1):133-143. doi:10.1002/ajh.25303

  4. Hultcratz M, Modlitba A, Vasan SK, et al. people. Hemoglobin concentration and risk of arterial and venous thrombosis in 1.5 million Swedish and Danish blood donors. thrombus res. 2020;186:86-92. doi:10.1016/j.thromres.2019.12.011

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