Haemoglobin, the protein part of blood cells, is produced by bone marrow. Haemoglobin is the element in blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs throughout the entire body. It is the oxygen that gives blood its bright red colour, while blood that is returning to the heart and lungs is a darker, more-bluish red.
The presence of haemoglobin in the blood is vital, but having too little or too much can be an indication of an underlying problem. That is one reason your blood is drawn when you visit the doctor or emergency room. A test will be performed on your blood sample that will reveal the haemoglobin levels in your blood. The results of these tests are a diagnostic tool that helps to identify certain underlying issues that could indicate a problem.
While low haemoglobin can indicate certain problems such as anaemia, lead poisoning, malnutrition and overhydration, too much haemoglobin can also indicate a problem. High haemoglobin may point to pulmonary fibrosis, bone marrow disease or congenital heart disease. Increases in pulmonary hypertension and thrombo-embolisms can also be an indication of high haemoglobin counts.
High haemoglobin levels can be caused by such things as living in the mountains where there is less oxygen in the air. To combat the limited oxygen, more haemoglobin is produced in the body to try to collect as much oxygen as possible.
Smoking can also lead to elevated haemoglobin levels in the blood where the smoke in the lungs causes less oxygen to be available for absorption by the blood cells.
Dehydration can also cause high haemoglobin, but once the body is rehydrated haemoglobin levels quickly return to normal.
The use of some drugs can also lead to high haemoglobin. Anabolic steroids is one such substance that can cause high haemoglobin.
While we most often hear about anaemia or low haemoglobin, there are some problems associated with the presence of too much haemoglobin in the blood. The end result of high haemoglobin is thickened blood or increased blood viscosity. In other words, the blood becomes less liquid and more gelled, like Jell-O after it's been in the refrigerator for awhile.
When haemoglobin levels reach the point of increasing the viscosity of the blood, circulation becomes impaired. This results in an inadequate supply of oxygen to the tissues. Thickened blood doesn't move well through the body's circulatory system which means not enough oxygen is being carried to the tissues.
The most common symptoms pointing to the presence of high haemoglobin are peripheral cyanosis, which is blue fingers and toes; and slowed mental function. Lack of oxygen in the tissues of the fingers and toes causes the skin to turn blue and feel cold, while a lack of enough oxygen to the brain leads to impaired thinking and reasoning.
Since the presence of high haemoglobin levels are indications of an underlying disease or illness, any treatment results from treating the cause rather than the symptoms.