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 also be higher than normal.

This is a rare disorder that occurs more often in men than in women. It is not usually 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

Symptoms may include any of the following:

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 problems.

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.

Medicines that may be used include:

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

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

Outlook (Prognosis)

The disease usually develops slowly. Most people do not have symptoms related to the disease at the time of diagnosis. The condition is often diagnosed before severe symptoms occur.

Possible Complications

Complications may include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

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


Review Date: 2/13/2015
Reviewed By: Rita Nanda, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Section of Hematology/Oncology, University of Chicago Medicine, Chicago, IL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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.