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Red Blood Cell Indices Test

Last updated April 4, 2018

The Red Blood Cell Indices Test is a blood test that measures the following physical characteristics or indices of RBCs: Mean corpuscular volume (MCV) - the average size of RBCs, Red cell distribution width (RCDW) - the different sizes of RBCs, Mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH) - the average amount of hemoglobin, red cells’ oxygen-carrying protein, present in RBCs, and Mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC) - the amount of hemoglobin relative to the amount of other components inside RBCs.


What are the other Names for this Test? (Equivalent Terms)

  • MCH (Mean Corpuscular Hemoglobin) Test
  • MCV (Mean Corpuscular Volume) Test
  • Mean Corpuscular Hemoglobin (MCH) Test

What is Red Blood Cell Indices Test? (Background Information)

  • Red blood cells (RBCs) are the principle ‘gas’ transport vehicles of the body. They supply tissues with oxygen and carry carbon dioxide away to the lungs for excretion
  • The numbers and physical characteristics of RBCs in blood can change, especially during any illness. For example, defective RBCs may be produced, or the body may be attacking its own RBCs. Thus, RBC tests can yield abundant health information
  • A group of tests together called a complete blood count (CBC) test measures different aspects of blood. This includes red blood cells, as well as white blood cells (WBCs) and other components
  • The Red Blood Cell Indices Test is a blood test that measures the following physical characteristics or indices of RBCs:
    • Mean corpuscular volume (MCV) - the average size of RBCs
    • Red cell distribution width (RCDW) - the different sizes of RBCs
    • Mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH) - the average amount of hemoglobin, red cells’ oxygen-carrying protein, present in RBCs
    • Mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC) - the amount of hemoglobin relative to the amount of other components inside RBCs

What are the Clinical Indications for performing the Red Blood Cell Indices Test?

Following are the clinical indications for performing a Red Blood Cell Indices Test:

  • Routine screening, as part of a complete blood count (CBC) test
  • Fatigue
  • Pale appearance (pallor)
  • Enlargement of the spleen (splenomegaly)
  • Difficulty adapting to altitude changes
  • Monitoring the effects or progression of:
    • Chronic blood loss, such as after a trauma
    • Burns
    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
    • Bone marrow disorders, such as polycythemia vera
    • Kidney, liver, and bone marrow disorder
    • Medications and chemotherapy

How is the Specimen Collected for Red Blood Cell Indices Test?

Following is the specimen collection process for Red Blood Cell Indices Test:

Sample required: Blood

Process: Insertion of a needle into an arm vein.

Preparation required: No special preparation is needed prior to the test.

What is the Significance of the Red Blood Cell Indices Test Result?

The Red Blood Cell Indices Test measures the following parameters:

  • Mean corpuscular volume (MCV)
  • Red cell distribution width (RCDW)
  • Mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH)
  • Mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC)

A high MCV may indicate:

  • Alcoholism
  • Liver disease and cirrhosis
  • Pernicious anemia

A low MCV may indicate:

  • Iron-deficiency anemia
  • Thalassemia

A high RDW may indicate:

  • Anemia with heterogeneous cell size

A high MCH may indicate:

  • Macrocytic anemia

A low MCH may indicate:

  • Hypochromic anemia
  • Microcytic anemia

A high MCHC may indicate:

  • Thalassemia
  • Spherocytosis

A low MCHC may indicate:

  • Iron-deficiency anemia

The laboratory test results are NOT to be interpreted as results of a "stand-alone" test. The test results have to be interpreted after correlating with suitable clinical findings and additional supplemental tests/information. Your healthcare providers will explain the meaning of your tests results, based on the overall clinical scenario.

Additional and Relevant Useful Information:

Certain factors interfere with the Red Blood Cell Indices Test; these include:

  • Exercise
  • Stress
  • Smoking
  • Genetic variations
  • High altitudes
  • Medications, diuretics
  • Hydration status

Certain medications that you may be currently taking may influence the outcome of the test. Hence, it is important to inform your healthcare provider, the complete list of medications (including any herbal supplements) you are currently taking. This will help the healthcare provider interpret your test results more accurately and avoid unnecessary chances of a misdiagnosis.

References and Information Sources used for the Article:


Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: June 13, 2014
Last updated: April 4, 2018