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Also known as: Hgb; Hb; H and H (Hemoglobin and Hematocrit)
Formal name: Hemoglobin

The Test Sample

What is being tested?

Hemoglobin is the iron-containing protein found in all red blood cells (RBCs) that gives the cells their characteristic red color. Hemoglobin enables RBCs to bind to oxygen in the lungs and carry it to tissues and organs throughout the body. It also helps transport a small portion of carbon dioxide, a product of cell metabolism, from tissues and organs to the lungs, where it is exhaled.

The hemoglobin test measures the amount of hemoglobin in a person's sample of blood. A hemoglobin level can be performed alone or with a hematocrit, a test that measures the proportion of blood that is made up of RBCs, to quickly evaluate an individual's red blood cells. Red blood cells, which make up about 40% (ranging 37-49%) of the blood's volume, are produced in the bone marrow and are released into the bloodstream when they are, or nearly are, mature. The typical lifespan of an RBC is 120 days, and the bone marrow must continually produce new RBCs to replace those that age and degrade or are lost through bleeding.

Several diseases and conditions can affect RBCs and consequently the level of hemoglobin in the blood. In general, the hemoglobin level and hematocrit rise when the number of red blood cells increases. The hemoglobin level and hematocrit fall to less than normal when there is a drop in production of RBCs by the bone marrow, an increase in the destruction of RBCs, or if blood is lost due to bleeding. A drop in the RBC count, hemoglobin and hematocrit can result in anemia, a condition in which tissues and organs in the body do not get enough oxygen, causing fatigue and weakness. If too many RBCs are produced, polycythemia results and the blood can become thickened, causing sluggish blood flow and related problems.

How is the sample collected for testing?

A blood sample is obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in the arm or by a fingerstick (for children and adults) or heelstick (for newborns).

NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.

Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

No test preparation is needed.