February 24, 2010

Low Hematocrit Levels: Symptoms, Treatments & Diagnosis

Posted in Category : Common Ailments

Hematocrit (HCT) is the percentage of your blood that is made of red blood cells; in other words, HCT reveals the volume of red blood cells in the blood. A complete blood count includes hemoglobin concentration, platelet count, and white blood cell count. The HCT percentage is about 45% to 50% in men and between 36% and 45% in women. Blood is mostly made up of plasma, which is made up of water, proteins, and blood glucose, among others, followed by red blood cells. Red blood cells are carriers of oxygen, and hematocrit levels represent the capacity of oxygen the blood can carry.

It is important that men and women have the required levels of hematocrit, as higher or lower levels indicate illness and other medical condition. Although results vary slightly in different laboratories, you can always consult your doctor to know about the specific results.

If HCT levels are above the normal values, it means that the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood has increased which is good, but if it increases more than the needed amount, it can cause the blood to thicken; this makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood, eventually leading to a heart attack.

Low Hematocrit Levels

HCT tests are done by doctors to verify and see signs of anemia, diet deficiency, leukemia, sickle cell anemia, or any other medical condition. Low hematocrit levels can be a sign of hemorrhage, anemia, destruction of red blood cells, malnutrition, and over hydration. Low HCT can be due to low blood oxygen levels, pulmonary fibrosis, and congenital heart disease, among others.

Persons who are at risk of low HCT levels are children without adequate iron intake, children who go through rapid growth stage and their iron requirements are not met sufficiently, women during child bearing years who need more iron due to loss during menstruation, and pregnant women in that there is more need of iron to provide the additional requirement of the growing fetus. Low HCT levels are also found in patients with chronic kidney disease or failure and bone marrow problems and when there is suppression by drugs and chemotherapy in the case of cancer.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of low hematocrit levels would include fatigue, weakness, fainting, pallor, shortness of breath, dizziness, flushing, headaches, enlarged spleen, and extreme dehydration, when there is lack of sweating, lack of urination, and dry mouth.


If you feel like you may have low hematocrit levels, consult a doctor for proper diagnosis. Diagnosis typically relies on a simple blood test. No preparation is required for this test.


Treatment for low hematocrit levels is based on the cause and varies accordingly. In most cases, it is due to lack of proper nutrition or an iron deficiency and an enhanced diet is recommended to treat the low HCT levels.

In fact, dietary changes are considered the best treatment to improve HCT. The best way to increase iron in the body is to eat more iron and vitamin-rich foods. Foods that should be included in the diet are as follows:

  • Meats such as beef, pork, poultry, clam, fish and oysters are excellent sources of iron.
  • Other iron rich foods are dairy products, eggs, and vegetables like peas, beans, spinach, mustard greens, kale and other leafy vegetables.
  • You can also eat iron-fortified foods that include bread, cereals, and pasta products.
  • Dried fruit, seeds and nuts are also excellent sources of iron.
  • For higher intake of vitamins eat more of berries, potatoes, broccoli, tomatoes, sprouts, pepper and citrus fruits.
  • Rice, cereals, pulses, corn meals, and grain products have folic acid that revitalizes the body.
  • Vitamin-C rich foods like citrus fruits, cauliflower, and broccoli improve the iron absorption from the stomach.
  • Vitamin B12 supplements will also help counter low HCT levels; foods that include vitamin B12 are meat, poultry, cheese, milk, yogurt, red meat and tuna.
  • Foods containing folate also increase HCT; such foods include asparagus, spinach, okra, chickpeas, whole grains, and black-eyed peas.

Exercising moderately along with improved diet with all needed nutrients is considered highly beneficial in treating low hematocrit levels, as it improves the oxygen supply in the blood. In case of severe illnesses such as cancer or kidney failure, consult your doctor as to what mild exercise can help improve blood circulation and enhance red blood cell production.

Other Treatment Options

If the person has anemia due to illness such as stomach ulcers, it is important that the ulcer is treated medically first. In the case of colon cancer, surgery is done to remove cancer and this causes excessive blood loss and anemia. In persons with bone marrow damage or those that have undergone chemotherapy or in those with kidney failure, epogen and procrit is administered to stimulate red blood cell production. In some cases, medication causes low HCT and one needs to consult the doctor in order to get alternative medication for the same.


  1. www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003646.htm
  2. http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/test/hematocrit-hct/overview.html