What is MCH Blood Test?
The blood has various components that play a vital role in the proper functioning of the human body. One essential blood constituent is the red blood cell (RBC). Inside this cell is the hemoglobin, which is responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to the other organs of the body. In certain medical conditions, the patient may have abnormal hemoglobin levels.
Typically, the abnormality in hemoglobin concentrations is common in people with anemia. The doctor will order the MCH blood test to determine the specific kind of anemia.
The MCH (abbreviation for mean corpuscular hemoglobin) blood test is the average quantity of hemoglobin in a red blood cell (RBC). Typically, a technician will draw a blood sample from your vein. Afterward, he will pass the blood through a machine that will automatically calculate a patient’s hemoglobin levels.
A normal MCH will range from 27 to 33 picograms of hemoglobin per red blood cell. Some patients will have high or low concentrations of hemoglobin due to various reasons such as nutrient deficiency.
What Does Low MCH Mean?
Your blood test will have a low result when the MCH is below 26 picograms per red blood cell. This can indicate any of the following conditions:
- Iron Deficiency
The most common cause of a low MCH is iron deficiency. Iron is a mineral necessary for hemoglobin production. One can get this mineral in various food products. If a person’s diet does not contain a good amount of iron-rich foods, he may develop iron deficiency anemia.
- Poor Iron Absorption
In some cases, a person’s diet has the right amount of iron. However, he may still get a low MCH result because of poor iron absorption.
Because celiac disease can damage the small intestine, a patient with this medical condition will have a problem absorbing iron, folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B12). As a result, they will have low concentrations of hemoglobin. Patients who have undergone gastrointestinal surgery will also have a difficulty absorbing these nutrients, especially if the intestine is shortened.
Another possible cause of poor absorption of iron is vitamin C deficiency. Vitamin C can increase your body’s ability to absorb this mineral, especially if your primary sources of iron are plant-based products. Keep in mind that the body can easily absorb it from meat sources. If you are a vegetarian, combining iron and vitamin C rich foods will greatly improve your absorption of iron.
- Hemorrhage or Blood Loss
Patients who are experiencing hemorrhage or blood loss will also have got a decreased MCH result.
What Does High MCH Mean?
Your blood test result is high if the MCH is above 34 picograms per red blood cell, which may indicate any of the following conditions:
- Macrocytic Anemia
Macrocytic anemia is a medical condition wherein a person has a fewer number of RBCs. However, the cell is larger compared to the normal size. Thus, it contains more hemoglobin.
The most common cause of this type of anemia is cobalamin and folic acid deficiency. Vitamin B9 and B12 are key players in the production of red blood cells and hemoglobin. If you do not eat enough foods containing these B vitamins, you may develop macrocytic anemia. Another possible cause is that the body is unable to efficiently absorb these nutrients like in the case of celiac disease.
- Thyroid Dysfunctions
The thyroid hormone has a crucial role in the production of RBC. To be specific, erythropoietin (EPO) is a hormone released by the kidney that signals the production of red blood cells. The release of EPO will begin once the thyroid hormone stimulates the kidney. Thus, a thyroid dysfunction may affect the RBCs, including its indices such as the MCH.
- Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol abuse can negatively affect the blood. In some cases, regularly drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can lead to the production of abnormal red blood cells, which may cause high MCH values.
- Other Causes
If a person has leukemia and undergoing chemotherapy, he may get a high result in the MCH blood count. Certain medications such as those containing estrogen can also cause high concentrations of hemoglobin, especially when taken excessively.
Treatment if Low or High MCH levels
The main approach when stabilizing MCH levels is to treat the underlying condition that is causing it. From there, your doctor may recommend any of the following:
- Dietary Changes
Because the primary cause of the abnormal MCH level is a nutrient deficiency, your doctor may recommend some changes in your diet.
For people with iron deficiency, food rich in this mineral can help improve your hemoglobin levels. The excellent sources of iron are red meat, dried fruits, spinach, beans, peas, various kinds of seafood, and iron-fortified products. Remember that vitamin C can help your body absorb more iron. The common sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits, broccoli, pepper, and tomatoes. These two nutrients can help increase your MCH level.
For people with vitamin B9 or B12 deficiency, consuming foods rich in these nutrients will help lower your MCH levels. The common sources of these B vitamins are meat products, liver, dairy products, and whole grains.
The doctor will recommend a specialized diet for patients with celiac disease. It is necessary to avoid gluten-containing foods. You can consult a nutritionist to help balance your diet or meals.
The doctor may prescribe oral supplements if you cannot obtain the right amount of these nutrients from your diet, especially for vegetarians.
If you are taking iron supplements, you may experience constipation. In addition, it is normal to excrete a black tarry colored stool. However, it is best to seek medical attention if you are experiencing abdominal cramps, pain, and soreness. This indicates a problem in your digestive tract and the black stool is due to internal bleeding.
If the problem is a poor nutrient absorption due to a damaged small intestine, oral supplements may not work. Your doctor will recommend iron or folic acid injections as a treatment option.
- Lifestyle Changes
Diet can help normalize your MCH levels. However, it is best to avoid alcoholic beverages, especially if the cause of your abnormal level is alcohol abuse.