Polycythemia Vera

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Polycythemia vera occurs when the bone marrow produces too many blood cells, especially red blood cells. This thickens your blood. The result: blood clots and a higher risk of stroke or heart attack. This condition can also lead to:

  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • Enlarged liver or spleen
  • Ulcers
  • Gout
  • Kidney stones

Without treatment, polycythemia vera gets worse. We can't cure it. But managing this blood disorder can improve and extend your life. At UVA Health, our team of blood disorder experts work with you on a care plan to help you feel better and live your life.

Polycythemia Vera Treatment at UVA Health 

Taking out blood works as the first and main way to treat this condition. By giving you a phlebotomy, we take out enough blood to thin it. This gives you symptom relief. It also helps your blood flow. How often you need this treatment varies. Some people don't need it for years at a time.

We also can use medicines to protect you from complications and help your symptoms. Options include:

  • Aspirin, to lower the chance of blood clots
  • Medications to lower red blood counts
  • Allergy medicines to control itching

Forms & Causes

Several forms of polycythemia exist:

  • Primary
  • Secondary
  • Stress

Even though the cause is genetic, this is not an inherited disease. Genes that mutate after birth seem responsible.

Polycythemia Vera Symptoms 

Symptoms occur gradually and vary from person to person. Some people show no signs of the condition. Symptoms may include:

  • Heavy bleeding due to a cut or a nosebleed
  • Intense and frequent bone pain and/or muscle pain
  • Headaches, lightheadedness, or GI symptoms
  • Vision problems
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Difficulty or labored breathing
  • Reddish skin
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Intense itching after a warm or hot bath, shower, or any activity that requires soaking your skin in warm or hot water

To diagnose this condition, we'll need to test your blood and other fluids. We may need to perform a bone marrow biopsy.