A high RBC count may occur because:
- Red blood cell production increases to compensate for low oxygen levels due to poor heart or lung function
- Red blood cell production increases to compensate for lower oxygen levels at higher altitudes
- The kidneys release too much of a protein (erythropoietin, or EPO) that enhances red blood cell production
- The bone marrow is producing too many red blood cells
- The oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells is reduced
- The loss of blood plasma (the liquid component of blood), often due to sodium and water depletion, results in the appearance of higher levels of red blood cells
Specific causes of high red blood cell count may include:
- Anabolic steroids, which stimulate red blood cell production
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Congenital heart disease in adults
- EPO doping (injections of erythropoietin (EPO) to enhance athletic performance)
- Heart failure
- Hemoglobinopathies (conditions present at birth that impair the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells)
- Kidney cancer
- Kidney transplant
- Living at a high altitude, where there's less oxygen in the air
- Other types of heart disease
- Other types of lung disease
- Polycythemia vera
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Sleep apnea
- Smoking, which may result in low blood oxygen levels
Jan. 25, 2013
Causes shown here are commonly associated with this symptom. Work with your doctor or other health care professional for an accurate diagnosis.
- Lichtman MA, et al. Williams Hematology. 8th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2010. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=69. Accessed Nov. 6, 2012.
- Polycythemia vera (primary polycythemia). The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec11/ch141/ch141d.html#sec11-ch141-ch141d-694. Accessed Nov. 6, 2012.
- What is polycythemia vera? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/poly/printall-index.html. Accessed Nov. 6, 2012.
- Familial erythrocytosis. Genetic Home Reference. http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/familial-erythrocytosis. Accessed Nov. 6, 2012.
- Renal cell carcinoma. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec17/ch241/ch241f.html?qt=kidney%20cancer&alt=sh. Accessed Nov. 6, 2012.
- Malyszko J, et al. Anemia and erythrocytosis in patients after kidney transplantation. Transplant International. 2012;25:1013.
- CBC with differential, blood. Mayo Medical Laboratories. http://www.mayomedicallaboratories.com/test-catalog/Clinical+and+Interpretive/9109. Accessed Nov. 6, 2012.