Bodybuilders have much to think about when it comes to looking and feeling their very best. They often push their bodies to their very limits, which can raise some significant health concerns. High hematocrit levels are one of those concerns, and this is almost always the direct result of anabolic steroid use. Here, you’ll learn all about hematocrit, including why having too much is a bad thing and ways you can keep your levels in check.
What Is Hematocrit?
The term “hematocrit” is a medical term that is used to describe the ratio of the volume of red blood cells to the total blood volume. Hematocrit levels vary significantly by gender and age. Pregnant women have hematocrit levels that are lower than average, and people living in high altitudes have higher levels since there is more demand for oxygen-carrying red blood cells at higher elevations. People who have low hematocrit are said to be anemic, and people who have high levels are said to be polycythemic.
What Causes High Hematocrit Levels?
There are a number of different things that can cause abnormally high levels of hematocrit. For example, just as those living in high altitudes have more red blood cells for oxygen delivery, so do those who smoke cigarettes or who have certain lung conditions. Other causes include:
- Dehydration, which lowers overall blood volume but does not lessen the production of red blood cells;
- Congenital heart diseases that limit the amount of blood that can be effectively pumped around the body;
- A condition called erythrocytosis, which is a term used to describe the overproduction of red blood cells; and
- Other lung conditions such as COPD, sleep apnea, and even pulmonary embolisms.
Bodybuilders using anabolic steroids are also at risk for high hematocrit levels. These compounds increase the number of red blood cells in the body by stimulating androgen receptors in the kidneys. While this is a good thing during workouts since it delivers more oxygen to the muscles and provides an advantage, it becomes problematic when left unchecked.
Why Is It a Bad Thing?
High hematocrit is a silent condition, which means that many people display only very mild symptoms and never even know they have too many red blood cells until they’ve had bloodwork. While elevated red blood cell levels during workouts are beneficial, too much hematocrit can cause significant issues over time. People who have high hematocrit often experience symptoms such as:
- Heat tolerance and excessive sweating;
- Weight loss;
- Bruising easily;
- Itchy skin;
- Chest pain;
- Joint discomfort; and
- Bloody stool.
How can You Treat or Prevent It?
Fortunately, like many of the other side effects associated with taking anabolic steroids, there are some ways in which you can prevent the onset of high hematocrit or lower your red blood cell counts if they are elevated. First and foremost, it is absolutely vital that you stay hydrated if you are using anabolic steroids as performance enhancers. Although some increase in red blood cells is perfectly acceptable, if you find that your hematocrit levels are rising significantly, you may need to lower your steroid dosage or stop taking it altogether. Finally, keep in mind that Equipoise is at the top of the list when it comes to steroids that raise hematocrit.
All in all, remember that slightly elevated hematocrit levels are to be expected in athletes since their muscles require more efficient oxygen delivery. However, high hematocrit levels can be downright dangerous, especially if left undetected or untreated. If you use performance enhancers, you should see your doctor once per year for bloodwork to keep an eye on your health.