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Polycythemia Vera – Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

What is Polycythemia Vera?

Polycythemia vera is a form of blood cancer. It causes your bone marrow to produce too many red blood cells. These excess cells thicken your blood, slowing its flow, which might cause severe problems, like blood clots.

Polycythemia vera is uncommon. It generally develops slowly, and you may have it for years without knowing. Often the condition is discovered during a blood test done for another reason.

Without treatment, polycythemia vera could be life-threatening. But proper medical care could help relieve signs, symptoms, and complications of this disease.

Polycythemia Vera Symptoms

Many people with polycythemia vera do not have noticeable signs or symptoms. Some people may develop vague symptoms like headache, dizziness, fatigue, and blurred vision.

More-specific symptoms of polycythemia vera include:

  •    Itchiness, particularly after a warm bath or shower
  •    Numbness, tingling, burning, or weakness in your hands, feet, arms, or legs
  •    A feeling of fullness soon after eating and bloating or pain in your left upper abdomen because of an enlarged spleen
  •    Unusual bleeding, like a nosebleed or bleeding gums
  •    Painful inflammation of one joint, usually the big toe
  •    Shortness of breath and trouble breathing when lying down

When should you see a doctor?

Book an appointment with your doctor if you have signs or symptoms of polycythemia vera.

Polycythemia Vera Causes

Polycythemia vera happens when a mutation in a gene causes a problem with blood cell production. Generally, your body regulates the number of each of the three types of blood cells you have — red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. But in polycythemia vera, your bone marrow produces too many of some of these blood cells.

The cause of the gene mutation in polycythemia vera is not known, but it is generally not inherited from your parents.

Polycythemia Vera Risk factors

Polycythemia vera could happen at any age, but it is more common in adults between 50 and 75. Males are more likely to get polycythemia vera, but females tend to get the disease at younger ages.

Polycythemia Vera Complications

Possible complications of polycythemia vera include:

  •    Blood clots – Increased blood thickness and reduced blood flow, as well as abnormalities in your platelets, increase your risk of blood clots. Blood clots could cause a stroke, a heart attack, or an obstruction in an artery in your lungs or a vein deep within a leg muscle or in the abdomen.
  •    Enlarged spleen – Your spleen helps your body fight infection and filter unwanted material, like old or damaged blood cells. The increased amount of blood cells caused by polycythemia vera makes your spleen work harder than normal, which causes it to enlarge.
  •    Problems because of high levels of red blood cells – Too many red blood cells could lead to a number of other complications, including open sores on the inside lining of your stomach, upper small intestine, or esophagus (peptic ulcers) and swelling in your joints (gout).
  •    Other blood disorders – In unusual cases, polycythemia vera could lead to other blood diseases, including a progressive disorder in which bone marrow is replaced with scar tissue, a condition in which stem cells do not mature or function properly, or cancer of the blood and bone marrow (acute leukemia).

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