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High Hemoglobin Levels: Is It Dangerous?

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High Hemoglobin Levels: Is It Dangerous?

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High hemoglobin levels or polycythemia can be due to smoking, dehydration, or heart problems. This article describes the types and treatment options for polycythemia.

Written by

Dr. Kamal Kant Sahu

Medically reviewed by

iCliniq medical review team

Published At May 11, 2018
Reviewed AtApril 13, 2024

When Is the Hemoglobin Level Considered to Be High?

According to the conventional definition, it is considered as high hemoglobin when levels are more than 18.5 g/dL for men and 16.5 g/dL for women. High hemoglobin levels are associated with high hematocrit (also called as PCV) levels which are defined as greater than 50 % in men and greater than 45 % in women.

Polycythemia is the medical term for high hemoglobin. Polycythemia can be secondary or primary.

Primary polycythemia also called as polycythemia vera is a type of myeloproliferative disorders (the general term is blood cancer).

Secondary polycythemia is due to multifactorial reasons, few are as follows:

  1. Lung problems like asthma.
  2. Heart problems.
  3. Smoking.
  4. Dehydration.
  5. Living in high altitudes.
  6. Obesity.
  7. Stress.

So, with a good history, most cases can be grossly categorized into primary or secondary.

How to Differentiate Between Primary and Secondary?

  1. With the patient's medical history as mentioned above.
  2. Blood investigations like EPO (erythropoietin) levels, ABG (arterial blood gas analysis), specialized investigations like JAK-2 mutation analysis and bone marrow examination.



Polycythemia vera can be treated with a variety of modalities like phlebotomy (blood letting), low dose Aspirin, Hydroxyurea and in certain advanced cases Ruxolitinib.

In secondary cases, treatment is by addressing the underlying cause such as management of asthma, obesity, cessation of smoking, and other lifestyle changes.

As a final word of caution, I would like to say that not every case of high hemoglobin is blood cancer and not to get carried away or panic immediately. Please consult your general physician, and with proper history-taking, he will be able to guide you about what disease you are suffering from.

For more information consult a hematologist online --> https://www.icliniq.com/ask-a-doctor-online/hematologist

Frequently Asked Questions


What Happens When There Is an Increase in Hemoglobin Level?

When there are increased hemoglobin levels in the blood, a person may experience the following symptoms:
- Headache.
- Joint swelling.
- Shortness of breath.
- Fatigue.
- Dizziness.
- Sudden weight loss.
- Easy bleeding.


What Level of High Hemoglobin Is Life-Threatening?

Generally, when the hemoglobin level is, more than 16.6 g/dL of blood for men and 15 g/dL for women is high. And when the hemoglobin level is more than 20 g/dL, it is considered a clinical alert, as it can obstruct the capillaries leading to hemoconcentration.


How to Reduce the Hemoglobin Level in Blood?

The treatment for reducing hemoglobin count varies depending on the severity and underlying causes. Medications may be prescribed to treat elevated hemoglobin levels; the dose and course of treatment vary depending on underlying health issues. In some cases, phlebotomy is done (blood is removed from the body using needles or syringes). This procedure may be repeated depending on the hemoglobin count.


What Medical Condition Causes a Rise in Hemoglobin Level?

Some medical conditions make the body produce excess hemoglobin, which includes:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Heart failure.
- Low oxygen level.
- Kidney and liver cancers.
- Kidney diseases.
- Polycythemia vera.
- Erythropoietin.


Does High Water Intake Lower Hemoglobin Levels?

Drinking excessive water is not directly associated with lower levels of hemoglobin. However, high water intake will make it appear as if there is a decrease in hemoglobin count because the hemoglobin levels are measured by considering whole blood, including the plasma. So an increase in the liquid in the blood makes it appear that hemoglobin is low.


Whether a Rise in Hemoglobin Causes a Stroke?

Increased hemoglobin concentration in the blood is associated with increased stroke incidence because increased blood viscosity reduces cerebral circulation. Also, high iron accumulation causes increased activation of peripheral platelet and oxidative stress.


Is Anxiety Related to Hemoglobin Increase?

Higher hemoglobin levels are found in people with depressive anxiety disorders. This can be due to the accumulation of red blood cells, where hemoglobin is produced, which will group up on the appropriate stress signal inside the cells leading to high hemoglobin production.


What Foods Are Ideal for Reducing Hemoglobin Levels?

To reduce high hemoglobin levels in the body, it is recommended to take food rich in high fibers, and good hydration is also required. Also, it is necessary to limit food rich in iron, like red meat, and vitamin C, like citrus fruits, as they increase the hemoglobin level.


How Long Does It Take To Lower the High Hemoglobin Level?

High hemoglobin levels mostly occur due to underlying health issues, so when proper attention is given to treating the medical condition, it will lower the hemoglobin level in the body. However, it can be reduced within 24 hours of blood transfusion treatment.


Does an Increase in Hemoglobin Indicate Diabetes?

No, an increase in hemoglobin is not always due to diabetes. However, there will be a rise in hemoglobin levels in diabetes patients because this condition makes the body produce more red blood cells, which produce hemoglobin.


Does Dehydration Increase the Hemoglobin Level in the Body?

Dehydration does not increase the hemoglobin level in the body, but it gives a false high hemoglobin reading on a blood test because it reduces the fluid volume in the blood relative to red blood cells.


Whether 17.5 g/dl of Hemoglobin Is High?

The hemoglobin level varies in men and women. When the hemoglobin level is, more than 16.6 g/dL of blood for men and 15 g/dL for women is high. So, 17.5 m/dl is considered a slight increase in hemoglobin level.


Will Polycythemia Vera Get Cured on Its Own?

Polycythemia vera is a chronic condition and does not have a permanent cure. But treatment involves controlling the symptoms and reducing the risk of complications like stroke and heart attack. Medical supervision of patients with polycythemia is necessary to prevent complications.


Is Polycythemia Similar to Leukemia?

Polycythemia vera is a kind of chronic leukemia that causes increased bone marrow production of red blood cells. The progression of polycythemia vera is very slow, so it is often diagnosed after age 60. If proper treatment is not provided, it can be fatal.


Is It Possible to Check Hemoglobin Levels at Home?

An at-home hemoglobin testing kits are available to check hemoglobin levels, but the test results will be less accurate than laboratory tests. The blood sample for the test can be collected by pricking the finger with a tiny needle.
Dr. Kamal Kant Sahu

Dr. Kamal Kant Sahu



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