What Are the Basics of Polycythemia Vera?

What is the definition of polycythemia vera?

Polycythemia vera is a slow-growing blood cancer. It starts in the bone marrows and the bone marrow makes too many red blood cells.

Polycythemia vera develops very slowly and it isn’t common. Without treatments for polycythemia vera, it can be life-threatening and can trigger many complications such as blood clots, stroke, heart attack, etc.

 

What causes polycythemia vera?

The exact causes of polycythemia vera are unknown, but if the gene called JAK2 doesn’t work right in your body, you may be supposed to have polycythemia vera. Although it’s rare, parents can pass this broken gene to children.

 

What are the symptoms of polycythemia vera?

Some people with polycythemia vera may not have symptoms, but others may have symptoms or signs like:

  • Blurred vision or double vision
  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Itching, especially after a warm bath or shower
  • Painful swelling of one joint, often the big toe
  • Fevers
  • Sweating, especially at night
  • Reddened face that looks like sunburn
  • Bleeding or bruising, usually minor

 

How to diagnose polycythemia vera?

If you have the symptoms listed above, you may need the following tests to help you diagnose it:

Complete Blood Count (CBC)
An unusual high number of any of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets could be a sign of polycythemia vera.

EPO Level
EPO tells your bone marrow to make blood cells. People who have polycythemia vera have very low levels of EPO.

Blood Smear
It’s a way of checking for other diseases that are sometimes linked to polycythemia vera.

Bone Marrow Biopsy
Take samples from the back of your hip bone, so that doctors can test whether you have polycythemia vera or not.

 

How to treat polycythemia vera?

Polycythemia vera is a chronic condition that can’t be cured. Common treatments usually include:

Phlebotomy
It is often the first treatment for polycythemia vera, it will remove blood from your vein to lower the number of your blood cells. Symptoms like headaches or dizziness will get better after it.

Low-Dose Aspirin
Low-dose aspirin can reduce your risk of blood clots and reduce burning pain in your feet or hands.

Medications to Lower Blood Cells
These kinds of medications include Hydroxyurea (Droxia, Hydrea), Interferon Alfa, etc.

Therapy to Reduce Itching
Prescribed medications like antihistamines or recommend ultraviolet light treatment can help relieve this kind of discomfort.

Medications to Destroy Cancer Cells
These kinds of medications like Ruxolitinib (Jakafi) can help improve some polycythemia vera symptoms.

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