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What MCV Levels Mean (Mean Corpuscle Volume)
Updated on November 8, 2022
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At Home Health
What MCV Levels Mean (Mean Corpuscle Volume)

Mean corpuscular or mean cell volume (MCV) is often included as part of a complete blood count (CBC). A CBC looks at red blood cells and other cells in a person’s blood.

Red blood cells (RBCs) deliver oxygen and vital nutrients to every cell and tissue in the body. In order to perform this function, they must be the right shape, size, and capability.

“MCV is basically a measure of the approximate size of your RBCs,” says Dr. Rizza Mira, our in-house medical reviewer. 

When they’re too small or too big, they don’t carry oxygen as well. These can lead to anemia. 

“This is why MCV tests are recommended for people with symptoms of anemia,” she explains.

A person can have high, normal, or low MCV levels. Let’s find out what they mean about your health.

What Does MCV Mean In A Blood Test?

The MCV test measures the average size of your red blood cells. It’s one of the tests included in a complete blood count (CBC).

A CBC looks at the different types of cells in your blood, including:

  • Red blood cells
  • White blood cells
  • Platelets   

Doctors may order a CBC as part of a routine physical checkup. But they can also use it to screen for various health issues. 

The MCV test is used alongside other tests to diagnose certain blood disorders, like anemia. Anemia is when the body doesn’t produce enough healthy red blood cells.

Anemia caused by abnormal RBC size can be one of three types: microcytic, macrocytic, and normocytic.1 

Your MCV levels help doctors determine which type of anemia you have and what may be causing it.

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Factors That Affect Your Mean Corpuscular Volume

Certain factors can affect your MCV results, including:

  • Excess alcohol consumption can raise your MCV level.2
  • People who frequently smoke have higher MCV levels.3
  • Vitamin B12 and folate deficiency can lead to abnormally large RBCs and high MCVs.4
  • Medications like proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and metformin can reduce your absorption of vitamin B12 and folate, leading to deficiencies and elevated MCV levels.4
  • Chronic stress is another factor that can raise your MCV level.5
  • Frequently donating blood can lower MCV levels by depleting iron stores in the body.6

What Is The Normal MCV Range?

The normal MCV range for most healthy people is 80 to 100 fL (femtoliter).1 It means your red blood cells are a healthy size.

What Normal MCV Levels Mean

You can have normal-sized RBCs and still have anemia. This is known as normocytic anemia.1 It means that your RBCs are of normal size but lack the capacity to carry hemoglobin.

In addition to your mean cell volume, doctors may look at your hematocrit and hemoglobin. You may have normocytic anemia if these levels are low, but your MCV is normal.

Other tests like a smear of your blood are taken to further investigate the cause of your anemia. Normocytic anemia can be caused by:2 

  • Kidney failure
  • Aplastic anemia
  • Chronic inflammatory diseases
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Infections
  • Cancer

What Is An Elevated MCV?

A mean corpuscle volume above 100 fL is considered a high level.1 High MCV levels mean your red blood cells are larger than normal. 

These RBCs are also “poorly nourished” says Dr. Mira. They’re unable to efficiently carry around hemoglobin throughout your body.

What Does High MCV Mean?

It suggests you may have macrocytic anemia. Macrocytic anemia may be caused by:2

  • Vitamin B12 or B9 (folate) deficiency
  • Liver disease   
  • Pernicious anemia 
  • Hypothyroidism

People who follow a vegan diet are at a higher risk of B12 deficiency. Gut disorders such as Crohn’s disease that affect B12 absorption can also lead to deficiency and anemia.7 

What Is Low MCV?

A low MCV level is anything below 80 fL.1 It means your RBCs are smaller than normal.

What Low MCV Means

Low MCV levels suggest you have microcytic anemia. Microcytic anemia usually occurs when your body doesn't make enough hemoglobin. As a result, your red blood cells are smaller. 

Iron deficiency is the most common cause of microcytic anemia. 

This can happen if you don’t eat enough iron-rich foods, have gut disorders that impair its absorption, or have an increased demand for iron due to pregnancy or surgery.

Macrocytic anemia can also be caused by:2

  • Thalassemia
  • Copper deficiency
  • Vitamin A deficiency
  • Chronic inflammatory diseases
  • Lead poisoning

How To Test Your MCV Levels

Your doctor will order an MCV test as part of a CBC. Make sure to let your doctor know if you are experiencing any symptoms of anemia.

An MCV test requires you to give a blood sample. This is usually performed in a hospital, medical clinic, or laboratory. 

You don’t have to do anything to prepare for the test if you’re just getting a CBC done. If you’re getting other tests done, your doctor may require you to fast for a certain length of time. 

After submitting your blood sample, you should receive your results within a few days. If you are diagnosed with anemia, your doctor may order additional tests to determine the cause.

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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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