You may not experience any symptoms if your hemoglobin level is mildly elevated. But when it is too high, symptoms that occur can include headaches, vision problems, fatigue, dizziness, periods of mental confusion, and abdominal discomfort. You may also experience nosebleeds and flushing in your feet, hands, and face. Depending on the condition that’s causing the rise in hemoglobin, you may experience other symptoms as well.
Ever been told your hemoglobin levels are too high after a blood test and wondered what it’s all about? While anemia or a dip in hemoglobin levels gets a lot of press, elevated hemoglobin levels often go unnoticed. But this condition can be equally damaging, which is why you should know what to look out for.
Understanding Hemoglobin And Its Function
Hemoglobin is a protein present in solution inside your red blood cells. If a red blood cell was a rubber water balloon, hemoglobin would be the water and the rubber would be the cell membrane. This protein is rich in iron and it’s what gives blood that red color. And it performs a really important function – that of carrying oxygen from your lungs to other parts of your body.
If your hemoglobin level is low, your blood is unable to carry sufficient oxygen to your body parts – a condition known as anemia. But high hemoglobin levels can be an issue as well. A high concentration of red blood cells can make you blood thicker, which can then slow down blood flow.
So what’s the ideal hemoglobin level? “Normal” hemoglobin levels can vary from person to person but, generally, an adult male should have hemoglobin levels of 13.8 to 17.2 g/dL, while a healthy adult female should have a measure 12.1 to 15.1 g/dL. For newborns, the normal levels are 14 to 24 g/dL and for infants a reading of 9.5 to 13 g/dL is normal.
Causes For High Hemoglobin
Hemoglobin levels mostly rise when oxygen levels in your blood fall too low – a condition known as hypoxia – and the body tries to compensate for this. Conditions such as congenital heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and other lung disorders which affect oxygen levels can result in elevated hemoglobin levels. So can living at high altitudes with low oxygen levels, dehydration, and polycythemia vera, a disease of the bone marrow.
Testing Hemoglobin Levels
The level of hemoglobin in your blood is measured by the hemoglobin test which is typically carried out during a complete blood workup. A word of caution here, though – make sure that you don’t confuse the hemoglobin test with the hemoglobin A1c test which measures your blood sugar.
Most people find out about their high hemoglobin levels through the hemoglobin blood test. But there are some signs that could point to a high level. Watch out for the following.
Symptoms Of High Hemoglobin Levels
When you have a higher concentration of red blood cells, and consequently hemoglobin, in your blood, you have a condition called polycythemia. Mild polycythemia may not cause any symptoms. However, as mentioned earlier, high levels of red blood cells can thicken your blood, making it difficult for it to flow. This slowing down of your blood flow is mostly responsible for the symptoms experienced due to this condition.
Symptoms can include:
Your skin may appear red and flushed, especially of the hands, feet, and face.
2. Fatigue And Dizziness
You may feel tired or weak when your red blood cell count and hemoglobin level are high. Lightheadedness or dizziness is also common.
You may experience headaches when your hemoglobin levels are elevated.
4. Vision Problems
Issues with vision such as double vision, blurring of vision, or blind spots are another sign to watch out for.
5. Abdominal Discomfort
A feeling of discomfort in your abdomen is another symptom associated with polycythemia. If you experience a feeling of pressure or fullness on the left side of your abdomen, it could mean that your spleen has become enlarged, a possible complication.
6. Cognitive Problems
You may experience cognitive issues such as difficulty concentrating or confusion.
7. Bleeding Problems
You could have issues such as nosebleeds, bleeding from your gums, excessive bleeding from minor cuts, or easy bruising when you have polycythemia.
Symptoms Of Conditions Associated With High Hemoglobin Levels
Many underlying medical conditions can lead to increased hemoglobin levels. Take a look at the additional symptoms caused by these conditions, so you have a better understanding of what you might be dealing with. Do keep in mind, though, it’s important to consult your doctor to arrive at a diagnosis.