What is a Hematocrit Test?
A hematocrit test is a blood test that measures how much of your blood is made up of red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. The other parts of your blood include white blood cells (to help fight infection), platelets (to help make blood clots to stop bleeding), and a liquid called plasma.
Other names: HCT, packed cell volume, PCV, Crit;; H and H (Hemoglobin and Hematocrit)
What is it used for?
A hematocrit test is often part of a complete blood count (CBC). A CBC is a common blood test that measures the different parts of your blood. It is used to check your general health. It may also be used to help diagnose blood disorders, including anemia, a condition in which you don't have enough red blood cells, and polycythemia, an uncommon disorder in which you have too many red blood cells and your blood becomes too thick.
Why do I need a hematocrit test?
Your health care provider may order a hematocrit test as part of your regular checkup or to monitor your health if you are being treated for cancer or have an ongoing health condition. Your provider may also order this test if you have symptoms of a red blood cell disorder, such as anemia or polycythemia:
Symptoms of anemia (too few red blood cells) may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness or fatigue
- Arrhythmia (a problem with the rate or rhythm of your heartbeat)
Symptoms of polycythemia (too many red blood cells) may include:
What happens during a hematocrit test?
A health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.
Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?
You don't need any special preparations for a hematocrit test. If your provider has ordered more tests on your blood sample, you may need to fast (not eat or drink) for several hours before the test. Your provider will let you know if there are any special instructions to follow.
Are there any risks to the test?
There is very little risk to having a hematocrit test or other type of blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.
What do the results mean?
Your hematocrit test results are reported as a number. That number is the percentage of your blood that's made of red blood cells. For example, if your hematocrit test result is 42, it means that 42% of your blood is red blood cells and the rest is white blood cells, platelets, and blood plasma.
A hematocrit level that's lower than normal may be a sign that:
- Your body doesn't have enough red blood cells (anemia). There are many types of anemia that can be caused by different medical conditions.
- Your body is making too many white blood cells, which may be caused by:
A hematocrit level that's higher than normal may be a sign that:
- Your body is making too many red blood cells, which may be caused by:
- Your blood plasma level is too low, which may be caused by:
- Dehydration, the most common cause of a high hematocrit
If your results are not in the normal range, it doesn't always mean that you have a medical condition that needs treatment. Living at high altitudes where there's less oxygen in the air may cause a high hematocrit. That's because your body responds to low oxygen levels by making more red blood cells so that you get the oxygen you need.
Pregnancy can cause a low hematocrit. That's because the body has more fluid than normal during pregnancy, which decreases the percentage that's made of red blood cells.
To learn what your test results mean, talk with your provider.
Learn more about laboratory tests, reference ranges, and understanding results.
Is there anything else I need to know about a hematocrit test?
Normal hematocrit levels will be different depending on your sex, age, and the altitude where you live. Ask your provider what hematocrit level is normal for you.
- American Society of Hematology [Internet]. Washington D.C.: American Society of Hematology; c2022. Blood Basics; [cited 2022 Mar 18]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.hematology.org/education/patients/blood-basics
- Haider MZ, Anwer F. Secondary Polycythemia. [Updated 2021 Jul 23; cited 2022 Mar 18]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562233/
- Hinkle J, Cheever K. Brunner & Suddarth's Handbook of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests. 2nd Ed, Kindle. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; c2014. Hematocrit; p. 320–21.
- Johns Hopkins HealthCare [Internet]. The Johns Hopkins University, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Johns Hopkins Health System; c2022. Hematocrit; [reviewed 2020 Aug 1; cited 2022 Mar 18]; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://johnshopkinshealthcare.staywellsolutionsonline.com/Wellness/Stress/167,hematocrit
- Mayo Clinic [Internet]. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; c1998–2022. Hematocrit Test; [cited 2022 Mar 18]; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/hematocrit/about/pac-20384728
- Merck Manual Consumer Version [Internet]. Kenilworth (NJ): Merck & Co., Inc.; c2022. Erythrocytosis (Secondary Polycythemia); [reviewed 2020 Sep; cited 2022 Mar 18]; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/blood-disorders/myeloproliferative-disorders/erythrocytosis?query=secondary%20polycythemia
- Mondal H, Lotfollahzadeh S. Hematocrit. [Updated 2022 Jan 7;cited 2022 Mar 18]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK542276/
- National Cancer Institute [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms: hematocrit; [cited 2022 Mar 18]; [about 1 screen]. Available from: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/hematocrit
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Blood Tests; [ cited 2022 Mar 18]; [about 16 screens]. Available from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/blood-tests
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Anemia?; [cited 2022 Mar 18]; [about 8 screens]. Available from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/anemia
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Polycythemia Vera?; [updated 2011 Mar 1; cited 2017 Feb 20]; [about 8screens]. Available from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/poly/signs
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Your Guide to Anemia; 2021 Sep; [cited 2022 Mar 18]; [about 44 screens]. Available from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/all-publications-and-resources/your-guide-anemia
- Testing.com [Internet]. Seattle (WA): OneCare Media; c2001–2022. Hematocrit; [modified 2021 Nov 9; cited 2022 Mar 18]; [about 12 screens]. Available from: https://labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/hematocrit/tab/test/
- University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; c2022. Health Encyclopedia: Hematocrit; [cited 2022 Mar 18]; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=167&contentid=hematocrit