Polycythemia, also known as erythrocytosis, means the presence of high amounts of red blood cells in the blood. This makes your blood thicker, makes it difficult to pass through the veins, and blood flow slows. Most of the symptoms of polycythemia are due to this slow blood flow.
What is Polycythemia?
Polycythemia is a blood disease in which the bone marrow produces an excess of blood cells, primarily red blood cells, platelets and white blood cells.
What are the Symptoms of Polycythemia?
- Facial flushing
- Difficulty breathing
- Slow healing of wounds
- Joint pain
- Excessive sweating
- Vertigo disease
- Itchy skin
- Confusion, confusion
- Skin discoloration (blue color)
- Itching after bathing
- Redness on the soles and palms
- Blurred vision
- Reddish or purplish skin on palms, earlobes and nose
- Bleeding or bruising of the skin
- Chronic cough
- Sleep apnea
- Weight loss
- Burning sensation in the feet
- A feeling of fullness in the stomach
- Frequent nosebleeds
- Bleeding gums
The most common cause of polycythemia is genetics. In a polycythemia patient, inheriting a gene called JAK2 can trigger this condition. However, the exact cause of polycythemia is unknown. Some of the common conditions that may pose a risk for developing polycythemia include:
- Heart or lung disease that causes low oxygen levels in the body
- Living in high places (living at very high altitudes)
- Some tumors
- Heart failure
- Lack of blood flow in the kidneys
- Pulmonary hypertension
- Sleep apnea
- Lung disease
How Is Polycythemia Diagnosed?
To diagnose polycythemia, the doctor will order a complete blood count test from you. The whole blood test (CBC) detects the amount of red blood cells, white blood cells, and blood platelets.
Bone marrow biopsy can also be used to diagnose, this diagnosis is made with a bone marrow sample taken from the back of your hip bone.
How is Polycythemia Treated?
Polycythemia is treated by thinning the blood to prevent blood clots. This can be done with periodic blood draws to reduce the red blood cell count. In other words, the first method in the treatment of polycythemia is giving blood regularly. In some cases, medications may be given to suppress the bone marrow and reduce blood cell count, including hydroxyurea and interferon. Although aspirin is less common due to its increased risk of stomach bleeding, it can also be used to prevent blood clots.
One treatment of polycythemia is with the use of Hydroxyurea and interferon alpha. These medications reduce the risk of blood clots by reducing the excessive production of red blood cells.
What complications does polycythemia cause?
While the progression of polycythemia is usually slow and most patients do not experience complications, the following problems may rarely occur due to polycythemia;
- Heart failure
- Leukemia (blood or bone marrow cancer)
- Blood clot (thrombosis)
- Enlarged spleen
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
- Gout (a type of arthritis caused by uric acid buildup in the joints)
- Peptic ulcer