What is Polycythemia?

Polycythemia is a condition in which there is an excess of red blood cells in the body's blood circulation. This leads to blood that is thick and slow-flowing. This condition is also known as “polycythemia vera” or “primary polycythemia".

How Does Polycythemia Occur?

Polycythemia is caused by the over production of red blood cells by the bone marrow. It can also be caused by other conditions, such as a tumor, that causes the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells than normal. Factors such as diet, altitude, smoking, and some medicines can also cause polycythemia.

Symptoms of Polycythemia

The most common symptom of polycythemia is fatigue. Other symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Itching, especially after a hot shower or bath
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Dizziness

Diagnosis of Polycythemia

Polycythemia is usually diagnosed through a physical exam and blood tests. Your healthcare provider may also order an imaging test, such as an X-ray or CT scan, to check for tumors or other causes of the increased red blood cells.

Treatment for Polycythemia

Treatment for polycythemia usually involves medications to reduce the red blood cell count. Other treatments may include phlebotomy (the removal of blood), red light therapy, and the low-level laser therapy. In some cases, surgery may be necessary.

Complications of Polycythemia

Complications of polycythemia can include an increased risk of stroke, blood clots, and other blood-related problems. These risks increase with age and those who have other chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

Prevention of Polycythemia

There is no known way to prevent polycythemia, but there are some lifestyle changes that may help reduce the risk. These include eating a healthy diet, avoiding smoking, and getting regular exercise.