High red blood cell count may be caused by low oxygen levels, kidney disease or other problems.
Low oxygen levels
Your body may increase red blood cell production to compensate for any condition that results in low oxygen levels, including:
- Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease in adults)
- Heart failure
- A condition present at birth that reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells (hemoglobinopathy)
- High altitudes
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) exacerbation — worsening of symptoms
- Pulmonary fibrosis (scarred and damaged lungs)
- Other lung diseases
- Sleep apnea
- Nicotine dependence (smoking)
Certain drugs stimulate the production of red blood cells, including:
- Anabolic steroids
- Blood doping (transfusion)
- Injections of a protein (erythropoietin) that enhances red blood cell production
Increased red blood cell concentration
- Dehydration (If the liquid component of the blood (plasma) is decreased, as in dehydration, the red blood cell count increases. This is due to the red blood cells becoming more concentrated. The actual number of red blood cells stays the same.)
Rarely, in some kidney cancers and sometimes after kidney transplants, the kidneys might produce too much erythropoietin. This enhances red blood cell production.
Bone marrow overproduction
- Polycythemia vera
- Other myeloproliferative disorders
Nov. 26, 2020
Causes shown here are commonly associated with this symptom. Work with your doctor or other health care professional for an accurate diagnosis.
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- Polycythemia vera. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/poly#. Accessed Dec. 8, 2015.
- Lee G, et al. The clinical and laboratory evaluation of the patient with erythrocytosis. European Journal of Internal Medicine. 2015;26:297.
- Marx JA, et al., eds. Anemia, polycythemia, and white blood cells disorders. In: Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2014. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Dec. 7, 2015.
- Tefferi A, et al. Essential thrombocythemia and polycythemia vera: Focus on clinical practice. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2015;90:1283.
- Connolly HM. Medical management of cyanotic congenital heart disease in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Dec. 8, 2015.
- Hoffman R, et al. The polycythemias. In: Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2013. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Dec. 8, 2015.