Hemoglobin (Hb or Hgb) is the part of red blood cells that carry oxygen. While a certain amount of hemoglobin is necessary for healthy muscle development, amounts generally higher than 17.5 grams per deciliter for men or 15.5 grams per deciliter for women could be problematic. Knowing what causes high hemoglobin in the first place will help you better control your levels so that they remain in the normal range.
Higher than normal levels occur whenever your body needs a greater oxygen-carrying capacity. Those who live at high altitudes tend to have higher hemoglobin levels, as red blood cell production will naturally increase to compensate for the lower oxygen supply. This is completely normal, and not necessarily a cause for concern. Other times, high hemoglobin levels might indicate a medical issue such as heart disease, COPD, kidney cancer, or a variety of liver disorders. Smokers may also have higher-than-normal hemoglobin levels, as their bodies attempt to compensate for their reduced lung function.
Those who use anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) may sometimes experience higher-than-normal hemoglobin levels. These steroids increase the amount of protein in cells, particularly muscle, and are also known to elevate red blood cell production. As such, AAS steroids are sometimes used to treat immune hemolytic anemia, a condition in which there are too few red blood cells. When the number of red blood cells are already at or near the normal range, steroid use could result in an abnormal increase that would make it more likely the user might experience blood clots or stroke. Cycling on and off AAS in addition to regular testing is needed to prevent a more serious health condition from occurring.
Many people who are experiencing high hemoglobin have no symptoms whatsoever. These individuals may not find out they have this condition until after they have undergone a simple blood test. Others will experience impaired mental function, difficulty breathing, or an irregular heartbeat. Peripheral cyanosis, a condition whereby the skin or nails become cold and blueish-purple, is sometimes present in more severe cases as well. At the first sign of peripheral cyanosis, you should seek immediate medical attention, as this condition has the potential to be life-threatening.
High hemoglobin is not a disorder, but rather a symptom of a much larger problem. As such, if your doctor determines your hemoglobin levels are abnormal, he or she will likely recommend additional testing to determine the exact cause. You may also be advised to stop smoking, lose weight, or abstain from taking certain medications or supplements, including anabolic steroids.
Anyone can experience high hemoglobin levels at any time, which is why it is important to undergo routine bloodwork. Aside from that, you should perform regular exercise, avoid smoking, and use anabolic steroids only as directed to ensure your hemoglobin levels remain as close to normal as possible. Should you develop high hemoglobin anyway, prompt treatment is necessary to prevent more serious health problems.