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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: 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 effects of medications taken for other ...more misdiagnosis »

Causes of Polycythemia:

The following medical conditions are some of the possible causes of Polycythemia. There are likely to be other possible causes, so ask your doctor about your symptoms.

» Review Causes of Polycythemia: Causes | Symptom Checker »

Common Causes of Polycythemia

Causes of Types of Polycythemia:

Review causes of types of Polycythemia in more specific categories:

Polycythemia: Symptom Checker

Listed below are some combinations of symptoms associated with Polycythemia, as listed in our database. Visit the Symptom Checker, to add and remove symptoms and research your condition.

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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 ...Polycythemia Treatments

Some of the possible treatments listed in sources for treatment of Polycythemia may include:

Review further information on Polycythemia Treatments.

Polycythemia: Comorbid Symptoms

Some of the comorbid or associated medical symptoms for Polycythemia may include these symptoms:

Causes of General Symptom Types

Research the causes of these more general types of symptom:

Causes of Similar Symptoms to Polycythemia

Research the causes of these symptoms that are similar to, or related to, the symptom Polycythemia:

Polycythemia: Deaths

Read more about causes and Polycythemia deaths.

Causes of Polycythemia listed in Disease Database:

Other medical conditions listed in the Disease Database as possible causes of Polycythemia as a symptom include:

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)

Increase in the total red cell mass of the blood.
- (Source - CRISP)

Detailed list of causes of Polycythemia

The list below shows some of the causes of Polycythemia mentioned in various sources:

How Common are these Causes of Polycythemia?

This information refers to the general prevalence and incidence of these diseases, not to how likely they are to be the actual cause of Polycythemia. Of the 68 causes of Polycythemia that we have listed, we have the following prevalence/incidence information:

  • 4 causes are "very common" diseases
  • 0 causes are "common" diseases
  • 1 causes are "uncommon" diseases
  • 0 causes are "rare" diseases
  • 5 causes are "very rare" diseases
  • 62 causes have no prevalence information.

Conditions listing medical symptoms: Polycythemia:

The following list of conditions have 'Polycythemia' or similar listed as a symptom in our database. This computer-generated list may be inaccurate or incomplete. Always seek prompt professional medical advice about the cause of any symptom.

Select from the following alphabetical view of conditions which include a symptom of Polycythemia or choose View All.

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Conditions listing medical complications: Polycythemia:

The following list of medical conditions have Polycythemia or similar listed as a medical complication in our database. The distinction between a symptom and complication is not always clear, and conditions mentioning this symptom as a complication may also be relevant. This computer-generated list may be inaccurate or incomplete. Always seek prompt professional medical advice about the cause of any symptom.



  • COPD ... polycythemia



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Causes of Polycythemia Based on Risk Factors

This information shows analysis of the list of causes of Polycythemia based on whether certain risk factors apply to the patient:

  • Travel - has the patient travelled recently?
  • Diabetes - history of diabetes or family history of diabetes?

    What are the alternative names for Polycythemia:

    Polycythaemia, Erythrocythemia, Erythrocytosis, PCV increased, Packed cell volume increased
    - (Source - Diseases Database)

    Classifications of Polycythemia:

    Medical Conditions associated with Polycythemia:

    Red blood cell symptoms (891 causes), Blood symptoms (2297 causes), Abnormal blood test symptoms (1538 causes)

    Symptoms related to Polycythemia:

    Genetic causes, Physiological, High altitudes, Smoking, Renal tumours, Liver tumours, Athletes who use anabolic steroids, Adrenal adenoma (16 causes), Cushing's syndrome (28 causes), COPD, Methmoglobin reductase deficiency

    Medical articles on signs and symptoms:

    Doctor-patient articles related to symptoms and diagnosis:

    These general medical articles may be of interest:

    Related medical articles from our Disease Center for Polycythemia:

    More Ways To Research Medical Signs and Symptoms:


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