Polycythemia vera is a type of blood cancer. It is when the bone marrow makes too many red blood cells. These excess cells thicken your blood and slow its flow, which can cause serious problems such as blood clots. It is a rare condition.
It usually develops slowly and you can live for years without knowing. The symptoms of this disease are usually found during a blood test for a different reason. Without treatment, this condition can be life-threatening. But proper medical care can help alleviate the signs, symptoms and complications of polycythemia vera.
What are the Symptoms of Polycythemia Vera?
When the symptoms of polycythemia vera are analyzed, most patients do not have specific conditions. Some people may develop vague symptoms such as headache, dizziness, fatigue and blurred vision. More specific symptoms of the condition exist and include
- numbness, tingling, burning or weakness in your hands, feet, arms or legs after a hot bath or shower
- Feeling full immediately after eating and bloating or pain in your upper left abdomen due to an enlarged spleen
- Unusual bleeding, such as nosebleeds or bleeding gums
- Painful swelling of a joint, usually the big toe
- Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing while lying down
If you have symptoms of Polycythemia vera such as these, it is advisable to see a doctor as soon as possible. Early diagnostic methods are essential for a better response to the disease.
Causes of Polycythemia Vera
There are different reasons behind the causes of polycythemia vera. This condition occurs when a mutation in a gene causes a problem with blood cell production. Normally, the body regulates the number of each of the three types of blood cells. These are red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
But in polycythemia vera, your bone marrow makes too many of some of these blood cells. The cause of the gene mutation in this condition is unknown, but it is not usually inherited from your parents. There are also a number of risk factors.
This condition can occur in any age and gender, but it is more common in adults between 50 and 75 years of age. Men, however, are more likely to have polycythemia vera, but women tend to develop the disease at a younger age.
Complications of Polycythemia Vera
Polycythemia vera manifests itself in different complications. When these are analyzed, they can be seen as follows;
- Blood clots Increased blood thickness and reduced blood flow, as well as abnormalities in your platelets, increase your risk of blood clots. Blood clots can cause a stroke, heart attack or blockage in an artery in your lungs or in a leg muscle or a deep vein in the abdomen.
- Enlarged spleen Your spleen helps your body fight infection and filter out unwanted substances such as old or damaged blood cells. The increased blood cell count caused by this condition makes your spleen work harder than usual, which causes it to enlarge.
- Problems caused by high levels of red blood cells: Too many red blood cells can lead to a number of other complications, including open sores in the lining of your stomach, upper small intestine or esophagus, and inflammation in your joints (gout).
- Other blood disorders: In rare cases, it can cause different blood disorders, including polycythemia vera, a progressive disorder in which the bone marrow is replaced by scar tissue, a condition in which stem cells do not mature or function properly, or cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
Complications of polycythemia vera are generally seen in this way.
Stages of Polycythemia Vera
Polycythemia vera is basically divided into 3 main classes. The first of these is called early PV. In this phase, there are usually no symptoms or only mild symptoms.
The second stage is referred to as progressive PV. As this condition progresses, you may start to notice more uncomfortable symptoms or the development of secondary conditions. The third is seen as the spent phase.
The wasting phase occurs when the mutated blood cells that cause the condition become so out of control that they take over your bone marrow, where the blood cells grow. As the mutated cells live out their lives and break down, scar tissue takes their place. When enough of your bone marrow is replaced by scar tissue, it can no longer produce healthy blood cells. This leads to anemia, a lack of healthy red blood cells. It also increases your risk of bleeding due to hemorrhage.
Polycythemia Vera Treatment
Treatment of polycythemia vera In the early stages PV is treated conservatively. Typical treatments include phlebotomy. Also the most common regular treatment is a blood transfusion. This is the same procedure as if you were to donate blood. A health technician inserts a needle into a vein in your arm and draws a small amount of blood, usually half a liter. But it can vary depending on your condition. This reduces your overall blood volume and the number of excess blood cells.
Your doctor may also prescribe aspirin. The medicine is usually prescribed to reduce the risk of blood clots. A low daily dose of aspirin helps prevent blood platelets from sticking together. It can also help reduce the symptoms of inflammation in your hands and feet. However, it must be prescribed by a doctor for proper treatment.
If itching is present, different methods can be used to treat polycythemia vera. These are outlined as follows;
- Antihistamines: These are over-the-counter allergy medicines.
- Phototherapy: The treatment combines ultraviolet (UVA) light with a drug called psoralen, an organic compound that makes your skin more receptive to phototherapy.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors: These drugs are normally used to treat depression, but at much lower doses, they have been shown to be effective against persistent physical irritation such as itching.
In addition, different medications may be prescribed depending on the patient’s condition. Polycythemia vera treatment In some cases, a bone marrow transplant may be recommended. Your healthcare provider will consider several different factors, including the severity of your condition and your body’s capacity to heal.
If it continues to progress despite treatment, your healthcare provider may focus on relieving your symptoms. In this respect, there are different ways to treat the disease.