Hematocrit is a measure of the volume of red blood cells in the blood. It is calculated as the ratio of the volume of red blood cells to the total blood volume (consisting of both red blood cells and plasma). For men, the normal hematocrit level typically ranges between 40 and 54 percent, while for women, it is between 36 and 48 percent. One possible clinical implication of an abornmal hematocrit level is anemia (Billett, 1990). Anemia is a condition in which there are too few red blood cells in the system (“Understanding Anemia,” 2017). Therefore, if a patient has anemia, their hematorcrit – that is, the ratio of the red blood cell volume to the total blood volume – would be lower than in a normal patient.
Anemia patients with low hematocrit levels may or may not display clinical symptoms. The most common symptom of anemia is fatigue, which occurs because, with so too few red blood cells available, it becomes impossible for the body to deliver a sufficient amount of oxygen to all organs and tissues (“Understanding Anemia,” 2017). Patients with low hematocrit levels may also experience dizziness or headaches. These clinical symptoms occur because the low volume of blood cells is limiting the amount of oxygen that is being delivered to the brain. Other symptoms of anemia include pale skin and cold hands and feet. Again, these clinical manifestations are evident because not enough oxygen is reaching the body’s extremities (“What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Anemia?” 2017).
Because low hematocrit levels manifest differently in different patients, treatment options vary. Clinicians may suggest that patients take an iron supplement or try to increase their dietary intake of foods that are rich in iron. Patients who do not experience symptoms may choose not to make nutritional changes. In order to assess the effectiveness of supplements and/or dietary changes, it is important for the patient’s hematocrit levels to be monitored over time (“Understanding Anemia,” 2017).
- Billett, H.H. (1990). “Hemoglobin and hematocrit.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK259/#_A4502_
- Understanding anemia. (2017). WebMD. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/understanding-anemia-basics#2
- What are the signs and symptoms of anemia? (2017). National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/anemia/signs