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Mean Corpuscle Volume (MCV) Blood Test
Updated on January 31, 2024
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At Home Health
Mean Corpuscle Volume (MCV) Blood Test

Key Takeaways

Mean corpuscular volume (MCV) is a test that measures the size of your red blood cells and how well they carry oxygen.

It is usually part of a complete blood count or CBC—a group of tests that measure the different cells in your blood. An MCV is also one of four tests that make up the red blood cell indices.

The MCV tells doctors whether a person has microcytic, normocytic, or macrocytic anemia. This helps them plan your treatment.

Quick Facts on MCV Blood Tests

  • Measures the average size of your red blood cells
  • Helps doctors diagnose anemia and other blood disorders
  • Included as part of a complete blood count (CBC)
Mean Corpuscle Volume (MCV) Blood Test 1

Red blood cells (also known as RBCs) carry oxygen and other nutrients to organs and tissues.

“Red blood cells must be the appropriate size, capability, and shape. If they’re too small or too big, they’re unable to carry oxygen well,” says Dr. Rizza Mira, our in-house medical reviewer.

Sometimes, normal-sized RBCs may not get enough nourishment to perform their function. RBC indices can give your doctor a more general picture of their health.

Summary

Mean corpuscle volume (MCV) testing measures the average size of your red blood cells. The size of these cells may indicate the presence of certain kinds of anemia.

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Why Take An MCV Test?

Your doctor will order an MCV test as part of a routine physical examination. However, doctors may also use it to monitor for changes in your health or screen for various conditions.

It's usually performed with a CBC and RBC indices to diagnose different types of anemia.1 Anemia is a blood disorder where the body doesn't make enough healthy RBCs.2

If you've been experiencing signs of anemia, an MCV test may help confirm your diagnosis.

What Do MCV Blood Tests Check For?

MCV testing measures your red blood cells' average size. 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.

Summary

Doctors may order an MCV test if they think you have anemia. The test is performed in a laboratory where blood samples are collected for analysis.

When To Take An MCV Blood Test

Your doctor may order an MCV test as part of a CBC if you show signs and symptoms of anemia. These include:2  

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Numbness and/or tingling in the hands and feet
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath  
  • Pale skin
  • Chest pain or abnormally fast heartbeat
  • Problems concentrating or brain fog

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 in 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.

How MCV Blood Testing Works

A phlebotomist will need to draw your blood and take it to a laboratory for testing and observation. 

Before Your Test

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. 

During Your Test

Before taking a blood sample, a phlebotomist or hospital technician will 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 insert a small needle into your vein and draw blood into a vial. 

You may feel a slight sting when the needle is 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. 

After Your Test

You may feel a 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.

Depending on the lab, you should receive your results within days after giving your blood sample.

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. 

Summary

MCV levels are normally within the range of 80 to 100 fL. Higher levels are suggestive of macrocytic anemia, while lower levels indicate possible microcytic anemia.

What Your MCV Test Results Mean

Your MCV levels can be low, high, or normal. Here’s what they mean:

MCV Normal Range

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 identifying which two values most of them fall into. The most frequently used normal range for MCV is 80 to 100 fL (femtoliters).2

This range may vary depending on where the test is performed.

Interpreting MCV Results

There are three possible results from an MCV test:

  • Low MCV levels — Your red blood cells are smaller than normal. It may be a sign of microcytic anemia.2 Iron deficiency is the most common cause.
  • Normal MCV levels — Your red blood cells have a normal size. You may have normocytic anemia, depending on the results of other blood tests.2
  • High MCV levels — Your red blood cells are larger than normal. It may be a sign of macrocytic anemia. Large-sized RBCs are incapable of carrying enough oxygen.1

According to Dr. Mira, chronic conditions like kidney disease can lead to normal-sized RBCs with poor function. This results in normocytic anemia.

Is MCV Blood Testing Accurate?

Yes. The MCV is a very accurate test for measuring 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.

How Much Does an MCV Test Cost?

The cost of a CBC, which includes the MCV, will vary depending on these factors:

  • Whether you have health insurance or not
  • The medical center where your blood sample is drawn
  • The lab where your sample is processed

You can contact your insurance provider and doctor’s office to determine the exact cost.

Can You Take An MCV Test At Home?

Yes. Some at-home CBC tests 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.

Your doctor might order more blood tests to confirm your results.

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Updated on January 31, 2024
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3 sources cited
Updated on January 31, 2024
Dr. Rizza Mira
Dr. Rizza Mira
Medical Reviewer
Dr. Rizza Mira is a medical doctor and a general practitioner who specializes in pediatrics, nutrition, dietetics, and public health.

As a pediatrician, she is dedicated to the general health and well-being of children and expecting parents. She believes that good nutrition, a healthy lifestyle, and prevention of illness are key to ensuring the health of children and their families.

When she’s not in the hospital, Rizza advocates and mobilizes causes like breastfeeding, vaccination drives, and initiatives to prevent illness in the community.
Will Hunter
Will Hunter
Content Contributor
Will is a content writer for KnowYourDNA. He received his B.A. in Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Will has 7 years of experience writing health-related content, with an emphasis on nutrition, alternative medicine, and longevity.
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