Test Quick Guide
Mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC) is a measurement of the average amount of hemoglobin in a single red blood cell (RBC) as it relates to the volume of the cell. Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body, which supports the development and function of organs and tissues.
The MCHC test is one of a panel of tests called the red blood cell indices, which help to define different physical characteristics of red blood cells. As an assessment of the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, the MCHC test along with the other RBC indices can be used to diagnose and classify disorders that affect the blood, like anemia.
About the Test
Purpose of the test
The purpose of a mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration test is to evaluate whether red blood cells are carrying an appropriate amount of hemoglobin. MCHC is one of several measurements that are used to assess the function and health of red blood cells in order to check for signs of anemia and other blood disorders.
The MCHC test is one of the red blood cell indices, which are a collection of tests that provide information about certain characteristics of red blood cells like their size, shape, and quality. The RBC indices are part of a complete blood count (CBC) which collectively include:
- Mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH)
- Mean corpuscular volume (MCV)
- Mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC)
- Red blood cell distribution width (RDW)
The results of MCHC and the other RBC indices are used to diagnose and classify different types of anemia.
What does the test measure?
The MCHC test measures the concentration of hemoglobin in a red blood cell relative to the size of the cell itself. MCHC is a calculation that helps describe how much space inside of each red blood cell is made of hemoglobin.
Hemoglobin is a protein that plays a vital role in supporting overall health. Carried by red blood cells, hemoglobin delivers oxygen to organs and tissues throughout the body and carries carbon dioxide back to the lungs where it can be exhaled.
When should I get an MCHC test?
MCHC is measured during a complete blood count (CBC), a common test that analyzes the quality of your blood. A CBC is usually part of a routine health examination and is an important test for diagnosing and monitoring a wide variety of diseases and conditions.
MCHC and other red blood cell indices on a CBC are evaluated carefully if you have signs or symptoms of anemia. Anemia is a common blood disorder in which the body is not producing enough healthy red blood cells, a condition that limits how much oxygen is delivered to organs and tissue.
Anemia can be mild or severe, depending upon the underlying cause of the condition and the progression of the disease. Some signs and symptoms of mild anemia develop over time and may include:
- Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
- Cognitive problems such as issues with concentrating or thinking
- Feeling weak or tired more often than usual
- Feeling agitated or irritable
- Loss of appetite
Signs that anemia is progressing may include:
- Being out of breath with mild activity or even at rest
- Skin that is unusually pale
- An unusually red or possibly sore tongue
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Abnormal or increased menstrual bleeding
- Desire to eat ice or other non-food things including dirt
- Nails that break, chip or split easily
- Blue color to the whites of the eyes
Finding an MCHC Test
How to get tested
An MCHC test is part of a blood panel called a complete blood count. The complete blood count generally requires a full blood draw to produce accurate MCHC test results and is usually conducted by a licensed professional in a healthcare setting.
If you are concerned about your health and feel as though an MCHC test might be appropriate, contact your healthcare provider.
Can I take the test at home?
There are options for at-home complete blood count testing that include MCHC and the RBC indices. At-home test kits include instructions and tools for collecting a blood sample. When you are ready, you can mail or sample to a laboratory for analysis. The results of an at-home CBC are usually ready 2-3 business days after the sample is received and are reported electronically, through an online health portal or by email.
At-home CBC test results cannot be used to diagnose or monitor any health condition. Your results must be shared with a health care provider who is familiar with your health history and situation. A traditional blood draw and complete blood count may be recommended by your doctor in order to confirm the results.
How much does the test cost?
Several factors affect the cost of a complete blood count which includes an MCHC test. The cost can depend where the test is conducted and whether you have health insurance coverage. Additional costs may include copays and/or deductibles.
You can ask your doctor or health insurance provider for specific details on the expected costs of a complete blood count.
Taking an MCHC Test
The MCHC test is part of the complete blood count, which is performed on a blood sample collected by a licensed medical professional. A blood sample is drawn into a test tube from a vein, usually from the inside crook of your elbow or the top of your hand.
Before the test
Generally, no special preparation is required before carrying out the blood draw for a CBC in order to find MCHC, unless your doctor provides specific instructions.
A complete blood count is commonly conducted at the same time as other blood tests. When you are getting more than one blood test, your provider may ask you to not eat anything for a certain amount of time or give other instructions prior to your blood draw.
During the test
There are several steps that occur during a needle blood draw that you can expect:
- A medical professional will locate a vein in your arm, hand or another part of your body from which to draw your blood.
- An alcohol wipe is used to wipe your arm clean in the area that the needle will be inserted. The inside the elbow or at the top of the hand are the most common locations.
- A band, called a tourniquet, is placed around your upper arm to make the vein in your arm more visible and easier to access with a needle.
- The needle is then placed in your vein, and a blood sample tube is attached to the needle which is then filled with blood. You may or may not feel a pinch or a little pain when the needle is inserted.
- After a few minutes, once the vial is filled, the needle and tourniquet are removed and the test is over.
After the test
Once the blood draw is complete, the medical professional will apply a band-aid or cotton swab where the needle went in to prevent bleeding. You will likely be instructed to keep this in place for an hour or more.
It is possible that you may experience some slight side effects from the blood draw. It is common for minor bruising, dizziness or lightheadedness to occur after a blood draw. Rarely individuals experience fainting, persistent bleeding, nausea, or tingling of hands or feet.
In some cases, your health care provider may ask you to stay seated briefly after the blood draw until they are sure you are safe to walk and/or drive.
MCHC Test Results
Receiving test results
The results for your complete blood count and MCHC test can be available within a few days after the blood sample arrives at the laboratory. The time frame may depend upon the laboratory’s equipment and practices
You will be able to access a report of your CBC results through an online patient portal or by requesting a copy from your health care provider. Your doctor will review each measurement on your CBC, including MCHC and other red blood cell indices, and describe what the results mean in relation to your health.
Interpreting test results
MCHC is interpreted in comparison to its reference range and also in relation to other red blood cell indices. The reference range is the set of results that are considered to be expected among most healthy adults in a designated population. Reference ranges are established by each laboratory according to their own practices and equipment.
MCHC is reported as grams per deciliter (g/dL). The American Board of Internal Medicine lists a typical MCHC reference range as 33-36 g/dL.
The MCHC result is compared to other RBC indices and measurements on a CBC in order to diagnose anemia and determine the underlying cause.
MCHC results in patients with anemia are categorized as follows:
- Lower than MCHC reference range is called hypochromic anemia, which is often caused by iron deficiency.
- Within MCHC reference range in a person with symptoms of anemia is called normochromic anemia. This condition can be caused by sudden blood loss, kidney failure, artificial heart valves, or aplastic anemia, a rare type of anemia in which the body does not produce enough red blood cells.
- Higher than MCHC reference range is called hyperchromic anemia, which may be caused by spherocytosis, a rare hereditary condition in which the body makes abnormally shaped red blood cells. Hyperchromic anemia can also occur when red blood cells abnormally clump together, referred to as RBC agglutination.
MCHC is generally not interpreted separately from other blood values. In order to be a meaningful diagnostic test, it must be compared with RBC indices collectively. Talk to your health care provider about the meaning of your specific test results.
Are test results accurate?
The MCHC test is part of a routine panel of blood tests called the complete blood count. The CBC is one of the most common blood tests and is generally considered accurate and precise according to modern laboratory methods.
The CBC is a broad test that measures different features of your blood. Because there are many factors and conditions that can affect your blood, it is possible to have abnormal results on a CBC that don’t necessarily mean that you have a current or developing health problem. It is also possible to have results within the reference range that indicate a developing problem. For these reasons your health care provider is in the best position to interpret the results of your CBC and MCHC blood draw.
Occasionally laboratory test results come back that are not what the health care provider expected. In that case, they may conduct a follow-up test if they deem it necessary to verify the initial results.
You can talk with your health care team to learn more about the accuracy and significance of a CBC test and your MCHC results in your specific case.
Do I need follow-up tests?
Depending on your doctor’s assessment of your MCHC and CBC results, additional follow-up testing may be recommended.
Additional blood tests, other laboratory tests, and possibly imaging tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of an abnormal MCHC.
Based on your symptoms, medical history, and the results of other tests, follow-up testing will be tailored to your specific situation. Your health care provider is in the best position to address questions about the purpose of any follow-up testing.
Questions for your doctor about test results
Your MCHC levels may have some implications for your health. If you decide to discuss your results with your health care provider, the following questions may be helpful:.
- What does my MCHC result mean for my health?
- Can any diagnoses be made based on my MCHC results?
- Are there any follow up tests needed based on my MCHC results?
- Is there anything I should do to improve my health if my test results are abnormal?
MCHC test vs. complete blood count (CBC)
Mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration analyzes the average amount of hemoglobin as it relates to the volume of a red blood cell. MCHC is a useful measurement when assessing how well your red blood cells are carrying oxygen. It is part of a collection of tests known as the red blood cell indices.
The complete blood count is a panel of blood tests that includes MCHC and the RBC indices. The CBC is a broad panel of measurements allows your health care provider to analyze the amount of cells in your blood including:
The CBC also analyzes other characteristics of your blood, including
- Mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH)
- Mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC)
- Mean corpuscular volume (MCV)
- Red cell distribution width (RDW)
- Hematocrit (Hct)
- Hemoglobin (Hgb)
MCHC test vs. other red blood cell indices
Red blood cell indices are a set of measurements on a CBC that provide information about how well your red blood cells are performing. MCHC is the amount of hemoglobin in an individual red blood cell in relation to the size of the red blood cell. The other RBC indices include the following tests:
- MCV is the average size of red blood cells
- MCH is the average amount of hemoglobin in a red blood cell.
- RDW is a measurement of the range of sizes of your red blood cells.
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