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Polycythemia: Introduction

Polycythemia is a rare condition in which the body produces too many red blood cells. There are two primary types of polycythemia: polycythemia vera and secondary polycythemia. The causes, symptoms, and treatments of the two conditions vary. Polycythemia vera is more serious and can lead to more critical complications than secondary polycythemia.

The body's blood cells are produced in the bone marrow found in some bones, such as the femur of the thigh. Normally blood cell production is regulated by the body so that the right number of new blood cells are made to replace the old blood cells as they die. In polycythemia, this process is abnormal due to various causes and results in too many red blood cells and sometimes other blood cells. This leads to a thickening of the blood.

Polycythemia vera is caused by an abnormality of the bone marrow and is a type of myeloproliferative disorder. Secondary polycythemia occurs as a result of an underlying condition or disorder, such as a liver tumor, kidney tumor or Cushing's syndrome. Secondary polycythemia can also be caused by behaviors, lifestyles, or disease that causes a lack of oxygen in the blood, such as smoking, living at high altitudes, and lung diseases. When there is a lack of oxygen, the body responds by producing more red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the body's cells.

Symptoms of polycythemia are due to the higher numbers of blood cells, especially red blood cells, in the bloodstream. This results in a thickening of the blood and the development of blood clots. Some people may also have problems with bleeding due to abnormal production of a type of blood cells called platelets, which are a component of normal clotting.

Polycythemia vera can be life-threatening if untreated and lead to such complications as acute myelogenous leukemia, heart attack and stroke. For more details on symptoms and complications, see symptoms of polycythemia.

Making a diagnosis of polycythemia begins with taking a thorough personal and family medical history, including symptoms, and a physical examination. Diagnostic tests include a complete blood count (CBC), which measures the numbers of the different types of blood cells in the blood. Additional blood tests, such as a chemistry panel and ESR may be performed.

A bone marrow biopsy may also be done. This test takes a small sample of bone marrow from the bone to examine it for abnormalities. In the case of secondary polycythemia, other tests may be performed to determine the underlying cause of the disorder.

Because the symptoms and presentation of polycythemia can be vague and/or similar to some other conditions, a delayed or missed diagnosis of the condition is possible. For information on misdiagnosis, refer to misdiagnosis of polycythemia.

Polycythemia can treated successfully, and many people with the disease have a good prognosis. Treatment may include phlebotomy. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of polycythemia. ...more »

Polycythemia: Excess red blood cells in the blood. More detailed information about the symptoms, causes, and treatments of Polycythemia is available below.

Polycythemia: Symptoms

The symptoms of polycythemia vary depending on the cause and the presence of complications. Symptoms of polycythemia vera can include dizziness, headache, facial flushing, difficulty breathing, fatigue, itching after taking a hot bath, enlarged spleen, lethargy, and visual disturbances. Symptoms of secondary polycythemia include lethargy, hypertension, and ...more symptoms »

Polycythemia: Treatments

Prompt treatment and regular medical care for people with polycythemia minimizes the risk of developing serious complications, such as peptic ulcer, gastrointestinal bleeding, heart attack and stroke.

The most effective treatment plan for polycythemia uses a multifaceted approach that generally includes regular medical monitoring and interventions aimed at the ...more treatments »

Polycythemia: Misdiagnosis

It is possible that a diagnosis of polycythemia can be delayed or missed. This is because some symptoms, such as fatigue, headache, dizziness, itching and lethargy can be vague, easily overlooked, or attributed to other less serous conditions, such as migraine, eczema, aging, insomnia, or stress. Symptoms may also be assumed to be side ...more misdiagnosis »

Symptoms of Polycythemia

Treatments for Polycythemia

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Wrongly Diagnosed with Polycythemia?

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Causes of Polycythemia

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Misdiagnosis and Polycythemia

Unnecessary hysterectomies due to undiagnosed bleeding disorder in women: The bleeding disorder called Von Willebrand's disease is quite common in women, but often fails to be correctly diagnosed. Women with more »

Polycythemia: Research Doctors & Specialists

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Polycythemia: Animations

Research about Polycythemia

Visit our research pages for current research about Polycythemia treatments.

Clinical Trials for Polycythemia

The US based website lists information on both federally and privately supported clinical trials using human volunteers.

Some of the clinical trials listed on for Polycythemia include:

Statistics for Polycythemia

Polycythemia: Broader Related Topics

Polycythemia Message Boards

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User Interactive Forums

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Definitions of Polycythemia:

An increase in the total red cell mass of the blood. (Dorland, 27th ed) - (Source - Diseases Database)

A disorder characterized by an abnormal increase in the number of red blood cells in the blood - (Source - WordNet 2.1)


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