What is Polycythemia Vera?

Polycythemia Vera is a rare blood disorder and is characterized by too many red blood cells that make the blood thicker than is normal. This thickened blood moves more slowly through the blood vessels and can therefore form clots.

Clots in the blood vessels can cause stroke and heart attacks. In the individuals with Polycythemia Vera (PV), their bone marrow makes too many red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

PV is a rare disorder, but if the disorder is not diagnosed and treated it can be fatal. There is no known cause for this blood disorder. Of those individuals who do have this rare blood disorder, most of them found out they have the disorder not from symptoms but because they were having a blood test for another reason and PV was detected.

The disorder is rarely seen in individuals younger than 20 and is more prevalent in males over 60.

Polycythemia Vera Symptoms

The disorder’s main characteristic is a slower than normal flow of blood because of too many blood cells and so the symptoms of the disorder correspond with the slowed blood flow and include organs not getting enough oxygen, angina, congestive heart failure, and gout.

With the lack of oxygen organs such as arms, legs, lungs and eyes cannot perform as they would normally do which can lead to other symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, itching, vision problems such as blurred vision or double vision and stomach ulcers or kidney stones.

Individuals with PV can develop myelogenous leukemia (AML). PV is a serious disorder that can lead to death if treatment is not followed. There is no current cure for PV. Treatment can decrease the risk for blood clots, stroke, and heart attack.

Those with PV may experience headaches, dizziness, general weakness, and shortness of breath with difficult breathing when lying down. They may feel a pressure or fullness in the abdomen on the left side if they have an enlarged spleen.

They may experience blurred or double vision, blind spots, and when they take a warm bath they may feel itchy all over. They may notice that their face becomes easily reddened, and they may feel a burning sensation in the skin of their hands and feet.

Their gums may bleed easily and if they get a cut or wound there may be more bleeding than normal. Those with PV may also on rare occasions feel pain in their bones.

Diagnosis

A routine blood test may show higher than normal levels of hemoglobin and hematocrit. The doctor may do a physical examination, check your medical history, and look for signs of an enlarged spleen, reddened skin on the face, bleeding gums and ask you about other symptoms you may have noticed.

Your doctor may refer you to a specialist called a hematologist. A hematologist is a specialist in the diagnosing and treatment of those with blood disorders.