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