Polycythemia vera is a rare blood disorder in which there is an increase in all blood cells, particularly red blood cells. The increase in blood cells makes the blood thicker. This can lead to strokes or tissue and organ damage.
Polycythemia vera is the result of a genetic mutation that develops during your lifetime. It is not an inherited genetic disorder. Why this happens to a given individual is unknown in most cases.
When there is an increased blood volume and thickness, complications can occur. The following are the most common symptoms of polycythemia vera. However, each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
The symptoms of polycythemia vera may look like other blood disorders or medical problems. Always consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.
In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, your doctor may do blood tests to observe the increased number of red blood cells in the body, and distinguish polycythemia vera from other conditions that could cause the red blood cell count to increase.
Specific treatment for polycythemia vera will be determined by your health care provider based on:
Treatment may include:
Polycythemia vera can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated. It can cause blood clots resulting in a heart attack, stroke, or pulmonary embolism. Liver and spleen enlargement are other potential complications.
There is no cure for polycythemia vera, but its complications can be minimized or delayed with proper treatment. It is important that you work with your health care provider to design a treatment plan that fits your needs. You should also be physically active in order to increase your heart rate and improve your blood flow. Other ways to improve blood flow include stretching of your legs and ankles, wearing warm gloves and socks during cold weather, avoiding extreme heat, and drinking plenty of water. It is also important to avoid situation in which you may be injured and to check your feet for any sores.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider: