MCV stands for mean corpuscular volume. It’s the average volume of the body’s red blood cells, measured in femtoliters (one-quadrillionth of a liter). Cell-counting machines calculate MCV from a blood sample. A normal value may vary between laboratories, but is usually between 80 and 96 femtoliters (fL).
An MCV above 100 fL is called macrocytosis. When anemia (low red blood cell count) is also present, it’s called a macrocytic anemia. Causes of macrocytic anemia include deficiency of B12 or folic acid, medication side effects, alcohol abuse, and certain blood cancers. Macrocytic anemia can also occur in healthy people who are rebuilding their blood supply (after surgery, for example).
An MCV below 80 fL is called microcytosis (or microcytic anemia if the red blood cell count is also low). Microcytic anemia can be due to iron deficiency, blood loss (in women, most often from menstruation), chronic illness, or a condition causing abnormal hemoglobin like sickle cell disease or thalassemia.
It’s not unusual to have an MCV that’s slightly abnormal without any serious condition identified as a cause. Often in these cases, the MCV becomes normal again on its own when it’s next tested.
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