In This Article
In This Article
Mean corpuscular volume (MCV) is a test that measures the size of your red blood cells. Red blood cells (RBCs) carry oxygen and other nutrients to organs and tissues.
“A properly functioning RBC needs to be the appropriate size, capability, and shape,” says Dr. Riza Mirra, our in-house medical reviewer.
If they’re too small or too big, they’re unable to carry oxygen well.
Some RBCs may be normal in size but are too poorly nourished to perform their function. Tests called red blood cell indices are done to provide a general picture of their health.
The MCV is typically included as part of a complete blood count or CBC. It’s a group of tests that measure the different cells in a person’s blood.
The MCV tells doctors whether a person has microcytic, normocytic, or macrocytic anemia. It also helps them plan any necessary treatment.
Your doctor will order an MCV test as part of a complete blood count (CBC).
A CBC is typically ordered during a routine physical examination. But doctors may also order it to screen for various conditions or to monitor your health.
The MCV measures the average size of your red blood cells to assess how well they carry oxygen.
Abnormally large or small red blood cells may be signs of anemia. However, some types of anemia may still arise even in normal-sized RBCs.
Anemia is a blood disorder in which your body isn’t making enough healthy red blood cells. As a result, they cannot supply sufficient oxygen to organs and tissues.1
The MCV test is one of four tests that make up the red blood cell (RBC) indices. RBC indices measure the size, shape, and function of red blood cells.
Besides measuring your MCV, this test also looks at your:
Doctors may use RBC indices and a CBC test to diagnose different types of anemia.2
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MCV testing measures your red blood cells' average size (volume). Red blood cells can vary in size depending on many factors.
The size of a red blood cell determines how well it can deliver oxygen to tissues around the body. The MCV test will show whether your red blood cells are smaller or bigger than average.
This gives doctors an idea of how healthy your red blood cells are.
If you are showing any signs or symptoms of anemia, your doctor may order an MCV test as part of a CBC. These include:2
Doctors may also look at your hematocrit and hemoglobin levels to diagnose anemia. Dr. Mira explains it’s because some people have “silent” anemia with no obvious symptoms.
“This can occur people with chronic anemia. They may experience symptoms only when their hemoglobin falls below 6. For this reason, a routine CBC is helpful as a screening tool.”
Hematocrit measures what percentage of your blood is made up of red blood cells. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to cells and tissues.
A phlebotomist will need to draw your blood and take it to a laboratory for testing and observation.
You don’t need to do anything special to prepare for the test. If you’re getting other tests done, your doctor may require you to fast before giving your blood sample.
Before taking a blood sample, a phlebotomist or hospital technician will first tie an elastic band around your upper arm. This will make the vein more visible and easier to draw from.
Next, they will swab the area with an alcohol pad to clean it. The technician will then insert a small needle into your vein and begin to draw blood into a vial.
You may feel a slight sting when the needle is first inserted. After a minute or two, there should be enough blood in the vial.
The technician will remove the needle and apply a cotton swab and a bandage to prevent bleeding. This entire process typically takes less than 5 minutes.
You may feel dull pain for a few hours after having your blood drawn. There may also be some slight bruising. But you can continue your normal daily activities, including driving and working.
You should receive your results within days after giving your blood sample, depending on the lab.
The doctor’s office should contact you directly about your results, or they can notify you through an online patient portal. Results may also be delivered to you by mail.
Your MCV levels can be low, high, or normal. Here’s what they mean:
Doctors will compare your MCV results to an established reference called the normal range. These are values a healthy person is expected to have.
The normal range is created by sampling a large population of healthy people and seeing between which two values most of them fall into.
The most frequently used normal range for MCV is 80 to 100 fL (femtoliters).1 This range may vary depending on where the test is performed.
There are three possible results from an MCV test:
According to Dr. Mira, chronic conditions like kidney disease can lead to normal-sized RBCs with poor function. This results in normocytic anemia.
The MCV is a very accurate test for measuring your red blood cell size. However, it may not be enough to diagnose anemia.3
When used in combination with other blood tests, the MCV test can more accurately diagnose blood disorders like anemia.3
If your doctor suspects inaccurate results, they may have you retake the test. They may also order additional testing to determine the cause of your anemia.
The cost of a CBC, which includes the MCV, will vary depending on these factors:
You can contact your insurance provider and doctor’s office to determine the exact cost.
There are at-home CBC tests available that include an MCV test. These tests allow you to use a blood sample from a finger prick instead of a blood draw.
You can send the sample to a laboratory for analysis and get your results in days. However, you shouldn’t use at-home CBC tests to make a self-diagnosis.
Only a qualified healthcare provider can properly diagnose your condition based on your results. They might order more blood tests to confirm your results.
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