MCV Blood Test: What It Means and What It Tells About Your Health

MCV Blood Test: What It Means and What It Tells About Your Health

MCV blood test is part of RBC indices (red blood cell indices) and checks the mean corpuscular volume of your blood cells to help doctors check the health of your blood. The MCV blood test shows the average size of your red blood cells. Red blood cells (RBCs) play an important function in transporting oxygen and nutrients to tissue. Red blood cells that are too large or too small can be an indicator of an underlying medical condition. That is why doctors will check the average size of your red blood cells.

If the MCV results in a blood test show that the red blood cell volume is too low, this could be a sign of iron deficiency anemia, chronic blood loss, or a blood disorder. If the mean corpuscular blood cell volume is too high, then it could be a symptom of a vitamin B deficiency, excess alcohol consumption, problems with your liver function, or an underactive thyroid. Certain medications can also cause high MCV levels.

The readings from a CBC (complete blood count) blood test that include the average volume of red blood cells can help doctors diagnose various diseases and illnesses.

In this article, you will learn what the MCV blood test means and what it can tell about your health. You will also learn about natural ways that can help to normalize your MCV levels.

What is MCV Blood Test and What is it Used For?

Checking the average volume of your red blood cells in a sample is an important way to diagnose various conditions that could impact your health. According to the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, MCV indices that are low or high can indicate various types of anemias or vitamin deficiencies.1

If the MCV blood test readings are abnormal, doctors will also take into account the MCHC blood test readings that can help to pinpoint the underlying cause.

What are Low / Normal / High MCV Levels?

The mean corpuscular volume is measured in femtolitre (fL). According to Dr. Jerry R. Balentine on MedicineNet, the average MCV levels for an adult is between 80 and 100 fL.2

Low MCV levels of below 80 fL are classed as microcytic anemia.

High MCV levels of more than 100 fL in an adult are referred to as macrocytic anemia.

Dr. Joseph Irwin from Lancaster General Hospital says that MCV blood test levels in children to diagnose anemia are slightly lower. The average for MCV level for children between the ages of 2 and 18 are 81 fL to 88 fL.3

Symptoms of Abnormal MCV Levels

If you don’t have normal MCV levels, you may have all the classic symptoms of anemia. Therefore, you may get tired easily, have a fast heartbeat, and get out of breath easily. However, different types of anemia can cause different kinds of symptoms.

Dr. Carol DerSarkissian on WebMD says that iron deficiency anemia from low MCV levels will cause sores at the corners of the mouth. However, anemia caused by abnormal MCV levels due to a vitamin B12 deficiency will result in tingling in the hands and feet and a lost sense of touch.4

If an underactive thyroid gland is to blame for high MCV levels, then you may experience mood swings, frequent headaches, and heavy menstrual periods. Women who have heavy menstrual bleeding may also find that this affects MCV levels when they give a blood test.

What Causes Low MCV Levels?

Let’s look at what can cause microcytic and hypochromic anemia which are caused by decreased MCV levels.

Iron deficiency anemia

One reason that the average volume of red blood cells is less than they should be could be due to iron deficiency anemia. If your body doesn’t absorb enough iron from your diet or you don’t eat enough iron-rich foods, you could develop an iron deficiency.

Dr. James Harper on Medscape says that other symptoms of low MCV levels in a blood test due to a lack of iron are fatigue, loss of concentration, weakened immune system, and leg cramps when climbing stairs.5 There may be other physical symptoms of an iron deficiency like abnormally shaped nails, angular stomatitis (cracks at the corner of the mouth), and a shiny tongue.

Iron deficiency can also lead to further complications if the underlying caused isn’t properly addressed. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, anemia can lead to chronic kidney disease due to a lack of oxygen needed to nourish this important organ.6 In order to check for renal disease, doctors usually order a blood test and check, among other things, the mean corpuscular volume (MCV).7

Chronic blood loss

Another reason for a decreased MCV level in a blood test is if you suffer from chronic blood loss. Causes of bleeding could be from a gastrointestinal disorder or from suffering from heavy periods.

According to Dr. Michele van Vranken, microcytosis can be caused if there is unusual bleeding and the body can’t replenish the red blood cells fast enough. In women, the most common cause is menstruation or pregnancy, where iron levels in the body need to be higher.8

If you have heavy bleeding during your period, you should speak with your doctor about it. Sometimes, abnormal vaginal bleeding is a sign of ovarian cysts or could be a more serious condition of the reproductive organs.


Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder that can cause the MCV level to be too low. The condition causes a disruption in how the body produces hemoglobin and healthy red blood cells.

According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, thalassemia causes similar symptoms to anemia, including fatigue and pale skin. However, you may also have abdominal swelling and dark urine. Children usually show signs by the age of 2 years old if they have inherited thalassemia.9

Other Reasons for Low MCV Levels

According to the Royal College of Pathologists of Australia, other less common reasons why a blood test could reveal decreased MCV levels are toxic lead poisoning, rare enzyme deficiencies, or congenital sideroblastosis.10

The Causes of High MCV Levels

What does it mean if your blood test shows up increased MCV levels? Here are some of the most common reasons why you have higher than normal MCV levels. The medical name for larger than normal red blood cell volume is macrocytosis.

Folate (vitamin B9) deficiency

A folate deficiency could show up as increased levels of the mean cell volume in a blood test. According to the University of Maryland, folate is needed for proper brain function and for the production of DNA. Along with vitamin B12, it helps to keep proper levels of iron in the body.11

A study into the causes of an abnormally large red blood cell volume found that one of the common causes is a folate (vitamin B9) deficiency.12

Vitamin B12 deficiency

Not having enough vitamin B12 can cause an increase in the size of your red blood cells. As with folate, vitamin B12 is important for proper cognitive function and helps keep your immune system healthy. Some of the best sources of vitamin B12 are dairy products, meat, fish, and eggs.

According to Dr. Laurence Knott on, a vitamin B12 deficiency can cause new red blood cells to be larger than they should be. This can affect blood synthesis and lead to megaloblastic anemia.13


Certain medications can cause high MCV levels. According to the Journal Clinical Medicine & Research, medications can account for a significant number of cases of macrocytosis, with or without anemia.18

Excessive alcohol intake

Having an abnormally high MCV is often seen in blood tests of people who drink alcohol to excess. Too much alcohol damages the liver and can affect how the body produces red blood cells. The result is an increase in red blood cell volume which impacts your general health.

According to the journal American Family Physician, having MCV levels greater than 100fL is often seen in alcoholics.14

Liver disease

Decreased liver function raises mean corpuscular volume of red blood cells and can lead to other complications.

Dr. Laurence Knott on says that your liver has abundant stores of vitamin B12. However, chronic liver disease can, over time, cause a depletion in stores of vitamin B12 which causes anemia.13 Other habits that can damage your liver are smoking, taking certain medications, and not getting enough sleep.

Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)

A thyroid disorder where your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone could raise your MCV levels.

According to Dr. Joyce Kaferle from the University of Michigan, hypothyroidism is also a common reason for blood test results showing elevated MCV levels. Also, hypothyroidism that results in macrocytosis is generally more common among older people.14

What to Do If MCV Levels are Low or High

Usually, if blood tests show an abnormal reading where MCV levels are either too high or too low, doctors will investigate the cause further. Depending on the reason for the abnormal MCV levels, they will recommend various ways to treat the condition.

In many cases, there are effective natural remedies that can help to address the underlying health issues that are causing a change in your RBC mean corpuscular volume.

Increase iron levels

If your blood test shows low MCV levels because of an iron deficiency, then you should make sure and increase your dietary iron intake.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic recommend eating iron-rich foods to help reduce the risk of developing iron deficiency anemia. The best sources of dietary iron are red meat, pork, poultry, and seafood. If you don’t eat meat, then bean and dark green leafy vegetable are good iron sources. However, to increase iron absorption from vegetable sources of iron, you should eat vitamin C-rich foods as well.15

Figs are also a great natural source of iron and they will also help to lower blood pressure naturally.

Avoid habits that cause kidney damage

You should also avoid habits that can damage your kidneys if low MCV levels show up in a blood test. One of the best things you can do to keep your kidneys healthy is to drink plenty of fluids every day. However, stopping smoking, getting enough vitamins and minerals, and getting proper regular exercise are all ways to keep your kidney working well.

Making positive lifestyle changes can help prevent the onset of kidney disease. For more ways on how to promote kidney health naturally, please read my article on natural ways to strengthen your kidneys.

Address any vitamin deficiencies

If you have high MCV levels because of a vitamin B9 or vitamin B12 deficiency, doctors will recommend boosting levels of these vitamins.

Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is a good way to get the proper number of vitamins and minerals to keep your body healthy. In my article on how to address a vitamin B12 deficiency naturally, you can read why consuming spirulina is a great way to increase vitamin B levels.

Regulate thyroid gland

If your doctor suspects that an underactive thyroid gland is causing larger than normal blood cells, he or she will check for levels of thyroid hormone in your blood.

To keep your thyroid working well, it’s important to eat a healthy diet containing vitamins and minerals. In my article on how to treat hypothyroidism naturally, you can find out why cutting soy products can help to balance estrogen levels and help boost thyroid activity.

Avoid habits that cause liver damage

Because your liver is connected with red cell production, you should keep your liver healthy. Liver dysfunction or drinking too much alcohol can lead to increased MCV levels and macrocytic anemia.

One way to strengthen your liver is to drink plenty of green tea which is rich in antioxidants. According to the International Journal of Preventive Medicine, green tea can help to boost liver function and strengthen its health.16

You can also consume more garlic in your diet to boost liver health and help the liver produce normal red blood cells. The Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine reported that garlic can protect liver cells from damage and the negative impact toxins have.17

For more ways on how to promote liver health naturally, please read my article on natural ways to strengthen your liver.

Other Related Blood Tests

MCHC blood test

Another way to check the health of your red blood cells is using the MCHC blood test. MCHC stands for mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration. In other words, it measures the concentration of hemoglobin in a given volume of red blood cells.

You can get more information about MCHC blood test in the article: MCHC Blood Test: What It Means and What It Tells About Your Health.

MCH blood test

MCH blood test is usually done as part of a complete blood count (CBC) test that doctors use to check your general health. MCH blood test measures the amount of hemoglobin in your red blood cells.

You can get more information about the MCH blood test in the article: MCH Blood Test: What Do MCH Levels in Blood Mean?

RDW blood test

Red cell distribution width (RDW for short) is a blood test used to measure the difference in size and volume of your red blood cells. The combination of MCV and RDW levels can tell a lot about your health – get more information in the article: RDW Blood Test: What It Means and What It Tells About Your Health.

MPV Blood Test

MPV blood test measures the mean platelet volume in your red blood cell count. The average size of your platelets can help doctors identify certain blood disorders and help diagnose underlying health conditions.

You can get more information about MCHC blood test in the article: MPV Blood Test: What It Means and What It Tells About Your Health.

Hematocrit (Hct) Blood Test

Hematocrit (Hct) blood test is part of a complete blood cell count (CBC) and it measures the percentage of red blood cells (RBCs) in your blood. The results of this blood test can tell a doctor a lot about your general health. Learn about the Hct blood test in the article: Hematocrit (Hct) Blood Test: What Does Low or High Hct Levels Mean?

Read these related articles:

Article Sources

  1. LabTestsOnline. Complete blood count.
  2. MedicineNet. Anemia.
  3. AAFP. Anemia in children.
  4. WebMD. Symptoms of anemia.
  5. Medscape. Iron deficiency anemia.
  6. NIDDK. Anemia in chronic kidney disease.
  7. Hippokratia. 2011 Jan; 15(Suppl 1): 39–43.
  8. AAFP. Normocytic anemia.
  9. MayoClinic. Thalassemia.
  10. RCPA. Mean cell volume.
  11. UMM. Vitamin B9.
  12. Clin Med Res. 2006 Sep; 4(3): 236–241.
  13. PatientInfo. Macrocytosis and macrocytic anaemia.
  14. AAFP. Evaluation of macrocytosis.
  15. MayoClinic. Iron deficiency anemia.
  16. Int J Prev Med. 2016; 7: 28.
  17. Avicenna J Phytomed. 2014 Jan-Feb; 4(1): 1–14.
  18. Journal Clinical Medicine & Research

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