Polycythemia vera

Definition

 
Polycythemia vera is a bone marrow disease that leads to an abnormal increase in the number of blood cells. The red blood cells are mostly affected.

Causes

Polycythemia vera is a disorder of the bone marrow. It mainly causes too many red blood cells to be produced. The numbers of white blood cells and platelets may increase as well..

This is a rare disorder that occurs more often in men than in women. It is not often seen in people under age 40. The problem is often linked to a gene defect called JAK2V617F. The cause of this gene defect is unknown.

Symptoms

Other symptoms that may occur with this disease:

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam. You may also have the following tests:

This disease may also affect the results of the following tests:

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to reduce the thickness of the blood and prevent bleeding and clotting.

A method called phlebotomy is used to decrease blood thickness. One unit of blood (about 1 pint) is removed each week until the number of red blood cells drops. The treatment is continued as needed.

Other treatments may include:

Taking aspirin to reduce the risk of blood clots may be an option for some people. However, aspirin increase the risk of stomach bleeding.

Ultraviolet-B light therapy can reduce the severe itching some patients experience.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The disease usually develops slowly. Most patients do not have problems related to the disease after being diagnosed. The condition is often diagnosed before severe symptoms occur.

Possible Complications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if symptoms of polycythemia vera develop.


Review Date: 3/3/2013
Reviewed By: Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

This information should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.