What is MCHC?
The mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC) is the average concentration of hemoglobin in your red blood cells. Hemoglobin is the protein molecule that allows red blood cells to carry oxygen to tissues within your body.
Your MCHC can fall into low, normal, and high ranges, even if your red blood cell count is normal.
What are the symptoms of MCHC?
There are a number of symptoms that people with low MCHC levels often have. These symptoms are generally tied to anemia. They include:
- fatigue and chronic tiredness
- shortness of breath
- pale skin
- easy bruising
- loss of stamina
People with slightly or recently low MCHC levels may not notice any symptoms at all.
What causes low MCHC?
The most common cause of low MCHC is anemia. Hypochromic microcytic anemia commonly results in low MCHC. This condition means your red blood cells are smaller than usual and have a decreased level of hemoglobin.
This type of microcytic anemia can be caused by:
- lack of iron
- inability of your body to absorb iron, which can be caused by conditions like celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and gastric bypass surgery
- chronic low grade blood loss over time from a long menstrual cycle or peptic ulcers
- hemolysis, or the premature destruction of red blood cells over time
In rarer cases, low MCHC and hypochromic microcytic anemia can be caused by:
- cancer, including cancers that cause internal blood loss
- parasitic infections like hookworm infections
- lead poisoning
What causes high MCHC?
A high MCHC value is often present in conditions where hemoglobin is more concentrated within your red blood cells. It can also occur in conditions where red blood cells are fragile or destroyed, leading to hemoglobin being present outside of the red blood cells. Conditions that can cause high MCHC calculations are:
Autoimmune hemolytic anemia
Autoimmune hemolytic anemia is a condition that occurs when your body develops antibodies that attack your red blood cells. When the condition has no determinable cause, it’s called idiopathic autoimmune hemolytic anemia.
Autoimmune hemolytic anemia can also develop along with another existing condition, such as lupus or lymphoma. Additionally, it can occur due to some medications, such as penicillin.
Your doctor can diagnose autoimmune hemolytic anemia using a blood test, such as a CBC panel. Other blood tests can also detect certain types of antibodies present in the blood or attached to red blood cells.
Symptoms of autoimmune hemolytic anemia include:
- jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and the whites of your eyes
- chest pain
- abdominal discomfort, due to an enlarged spleen
If the destruction of red blood cells is very mild, you may not experience any symptoms.
Corticosteroids such as prednisone are the first line of treatment for autoimmune hemolytic anemia. A high dose may be given initially and then gradually reduced over time. In cases where the destruction of red blood cells is severe, blood transfusions or removal of the spleen (splenectomy) may be necessary.