Polycythemia is a clinical disorder characterized by a relative increase in the number of red blood cells in the peripheral blood. In this condition, there is an increase in the hemoglobin content, red blood cell count and hematocrit.
Polycythemia can present with the following signs and symptoms:
Polycythemia is diagnosed on the basis of clinical features and laboratory findings. The following tests are used in the work up of patients with polycythemia:
Polycythemia can be treated symptomatically by reducing the red blood cell mass by phlebotomy or the physical drainage of blood from a given vein. Patients who have undergone phlebotomy have a decreased chance of developing a thrombosis in the near future . In patients with polycythemia vera, regular phlebotomy may be indicated because of the chronic nature of the disease.
Patients with thicker blood viscosity benefit from the regular intake of low dose aspirin to prevent blood clots. The use of aspirin also addresses the burning sensation of the hands and feet felt by the patients suffering from polycythemia.
Anti-itch medications like oral anti-histamines may be given to control the itching felt in the palms and soles of patients. Ultraviolet light (UV) has been arbitrarily used to relieve the itch symptoms in the skin.
Polycythemia is a type of chronic disease requiring long term treatment regimen. Individuals who strictly adhere to the treatment can live a healthy life without any complications. Patients with secondary polycythemia (like smokers and asthmatics) have a greatly reduced the risk for cardiovascular events when regular phlebotomy is done.
Polycythemia can either be congenital in nature or can be acquired. The primary type of polycythemia occurs when there is a overproduction of red blood cells by the bone marrow. The most common type of primary polycythemia is known as polycythemia vera. Secondary polycythemia occurs due to certain underlying diseases.
Primary polycythemia is a rare occurrence. It has been estimated that in the United States, there are just about 45 - 57 cases per 100,000 population . Individuals above 60 years of age are at an increased risk of contracting this blood condition. The incidence of primary polycythemia, in individuals younger than 20 years is estimated to be about 0.01%.
Studies have shown that males are more prone to contract this condition than females, with the male to female ratio being 1.2:2.2 .
Mutations that are either acquired or inherited are the primary factors that favor the development of primary polycythemia. Polycythemia vera, which is the most common form of primary polycythemia, occurs as a result of excessive production of red blood cells (RBC's) due to certain abnormalities in the bone marrow . It is a type of myoproliferative disease which is characterized by increased production of myeloid cells . In such cases, excess production of RBC's is also accompanied by excessive production of white blood cells (WBC's) and platelets (thrombocytes).
Secondary form of polycythemia usually occurs due to an underlying disease condition and is characterized by 6 - 8 million erythrocytes per cubic millimeter of blood. Another factor which greatly triggers the development of polycythemia is the state of reduced oxygen supply, typically seen among chronic smokers and asthmatics. Such conditions cause an increased production of RBC's causing the development of polycythemia.
Patients diagnosed with polycythemia should have regular exercises to prevent blood clot formation and improve blood vessel circulation in the body. Tobacco should be strictly prohibited to prevent polycythemia from recurring. Polycythemic patients are prone to the development of sores in hands and feet. A good wound care is imperative to prevent complications especially in tissues with poor blood circulation.
The condition develops either due to increase in red blood cell count or decrease in plasma volume. In the former case, the condition is referred to as absolute polycythemia; whereas in the latter, it is referred to as relative polycythemia.
Polycythemia is a disorder characterized by an abnormally increased number of red blood cells in the blood. Polycythemia may either occur at birth or later in life secondary to conditions such as smoking, dehydration and obesity. Patients of polycythemia perennially complain of fatigue and disturbed balance. Itching is also a common feature. Headaches and dizziness due to frequent bouts of high blood pressure may also be observed. Blood is reguarly removed from the patients of polycthemia to keep the red cell counts at an acceptable level. Medicines are given to prevent the formation of blood clots and to relieve the symptoms of itching.