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Mean corpuscular volume or mean cell volume (MCV) describes the average size of your red blood cell (RBC) in a blood sample. It is often part of a complete blood count (CBC), which looks at RBCs and other components in your blood.
Red blood cells (RBCs) deliver oxygen and vital nutrients to every cell and tissue in the body. They must be the right shape, size, and capability to perform this function.
“MCV is a measurement of the approximate size of your RBCs,” says our in-house medical reviewer Dr. Rizza Mira.
When your RBCs are too small or too big, they don’t carry oxygen efficiently. If this happens, you may have a higher risk of developing certain types of anemia.
“This is why doctors recommend an MCV blood test 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.
Mean corpuscular volume (MCV) measures the average size of red blood cells in a blood sample, MCV levels can be high, normal, or low and can indicate the risk of developing certain types of anemia.
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The MCV blood test measures the average size of your red blood cells (RBCs). 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 RBCs, white blood cells (WBCs), and platelets.
Other RBC indicators include:
Hemoglobin is the protein in your RBCs that carries oxygen.
Doctors may order a CBC as part of a routine blood test. But they can also use it to screen for various health issues.
Doctors use MCV blood tests alongside other tests to diagnose certain blood disorders, like anemia. Anemia occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough healthy red blood cells.
Your MCV levels help doctors determine your type of anemia and what may be causing it.
Anemia caused by abnormal RBC size can be one of three types
Mean corpuscular or mean cell volume (MCV) is a measurement of the approximate size of your red blood cells. It's often listed in a complete blood count (CBC). Doctors use the results of an MCV blood test to diagnose blood disorders like anemia.
An elevated MCV means a value above 100 fL.1 High MCV levels mean your red blood cells are larger than usual.
These RBCs are also “poorly nourished,” says Dr. Mira. They’re unable to carry around hemoglobin throughout your body efficiently.
A high MCV level suggests you may have macrocytic anemia. The following factors may cause macrocytic anemia:2
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
An elevated MCV indicates the red blood cells are larger than usual and unable to carry hemoglobin efficiently. This suggests a person may have macrocytic anemia caused by factors such as vitamin B12 or B9 deficiency, liver disease, pernicious anemia, or hypothyroidism.
A low MCV level is anything below 80 fL.1 It means your RBCs are smaller than normal.
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 anemia (IDA) often causes microcytic anemia. The most common causes of Iron deficiency anemia include:
Aside from IDA, these health factors may also cause macrocytic anemia:2
Low MCV levels refer to smaller than normal red blood cells. It may suggest microcytic anemia, which is ypically caused by iron deficiency. Other possible causes include inherited blood disorders, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, and chronic inflammatory diseases.
Certain factors can affect your MCV results. Some of them can raise or lower your MCV.
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.
A normal MCV level means you have normal-sized RBCs. However, despite having a normal MCV, you can still develop anemia— a condition known as normocytic anemia.1
Normocytic anemia happens when your RBCs are of standard size but cannot carry hemoglobin.
In addition to your MCV, doctors may look at your hematocrit and hemoglobin. You may have normocytic anemia if your MCV is normal, but these levels are low.
Your hematocrit level shows how much of your blood comprises RBCs. On the other hand, your hemoglobin level reveals how much hemoglobin is in your blood.
The following health conditions can also cause normocytic anemia:2
Doctors can also use other tests like a blood smear to investigate your anemia's cause further.
Many factors affect your MCV levels, causing them to go up or down the normal range. However, having a normal MCV range can still put you at risk of developing anemia. It happens when your red blood cells are normal in size but aren't capable of carrying hemoglobin.
Mean corpuscular volume is one of the red blood cell indices. It’s part of the blood tests that help assess your red blood cells' size, shape, and quality.
Besides a routine health exam or diagnostic testing, your doctor may ask to test your MCV level if you have symptoms of anemia.
The early signs of anemia may include
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 blood test requires your blood sample. You can usually get tested for it in a hospital, medical clinic, or laboratory.
If you're just getting a CBC done, you don’t have to do anything to prepare for the test. If you’re getting other tests done, your doctor may require you to fast for a certain period.
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.
MCV testing is a blood test to assess red blood cells' size, shape, and quality. A doctor may request an MCV test if a person shows symptoms of anemia, such as fatigue, pale skin, and shortness of breath. MCV testing requires a blood sample, and results can usually be obtained within a few days.
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