Experts Talk: Is High Hemoglobin A Boon Or Bane For Your Health?

Dr. Rahul Bhargava and Dr. Nikhil M. Kumar explain the condition of Polycythemia, a condition that increases the number of red blood cells in the body, and its potential impact on health.


Our vitality is closely tied to hemoglobin, a vital component responsible for absorbing oxygen during respiration and transporting it to cells and organs throughout the body. The iron within hemoglobin facilitates this crucial function. Consuming iron-rich foods is often emphasized to enhance oxygen supply, as more iron correlates with increased oxygen levels. The distinct color of red blood cells is also attributed to hemoglobin or Hb. However, is there such a thing as having ‘too much hemoglobin’?


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Indeed, there is, and it is termed polycythemia. This condition involves an elevated number of red blood cells, often originating from bone marrow abnormalities leading to excessive production (known as Polycythemia vera). These surplus cells can thicken the blood, impeding its flow and posing risks such as blood clots. Other factors contributing to polycythemia include smoking, heart or lung diseases, and prolonged residence at high altitudes.


Dr. Rahul Bhargava, Principal Director & Chief of BMT at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram, and Dr. Nikhil M. Kumar, an Associate Consultant at The Department of Hematology and BMT, Fortis Memorial Research Institute Gurgaon, shared their insights on ‘High Hemoglobin – A Boon or Bane?‘.


Dr. Rahul Bhargava notes, “Hemoglobin levels exceeding 16.5g/dL in males and 16g/dL in females are considered abnormal and warrant further evaluation.”


While high hemoglobin levels may be identified through routine blood tests, they may not always exhibit noticeable symptoms. However, potential symptoms include frequent headaches, blurred vision, itching after a warm shower, and painful, swollen joints. Additionally, high hemoglobin levels can lead to serious complications like stroke, heart attack, and blood clots.


Addressing elevated hemoglobin levels is crucial, as it can elevate the risk of blood clotting and potentially lead to severe conditions. Consultation with a hematologist is recommended for further evaluation, where potential secondary causes of polycythemia, such as obstructive sleep apnea or heart and lung diseases, are examined. Routine blood tests, including a peripheral smear, serum erythropoietin levels, and JAK2 mutation study, are essential for evaluation. In selected cases, a bone marrow examination is conducted to determine the cause of polycythemia.


Treatment for Polycythemia Vera involves procedures like phlebotomy to remove blood from the body, blood thinners like aspirin to prevent clotting, and medications such as hydroxyurea to inhibit excessive cell production.


To manage high hemoglobin levels effectively, it is advised to avoid smoking, control diabetes and high blood pressure, and maintain adequate oral fluid intake. Recognizing the diverse causes of elevated hemoglobin and promptly consulting a hematologist for evaluation is crucial. This approach ensures correct assessment and timely intervention to prevent serious complications associated with high hemoglobin levels in the body.


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