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What Is Polycythemia Vera?

Polycythemia VeraPolycythemia Vera or PV is defined as a stem cell disorder which is characterized as a malignant, panhyperplastic and neoplastic disorder of the bone marrow. This disease is associated with a prominent feature of an abnormally elevated absolute mass of red blood cells. This happens because the red blood cells grow in an uncontrolled manner. In addition to the increase in red blood cells, an increase in the production of white blood cells and blood platelets is also observed. This happens as a result of abnormal cloning of hematopoietic stem cells along with a high level of sensitivity with respect to the growth factors for maturation. Polycythemia vera is found in all age groups. As per the study conducted by Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, the occurrence was found to be most common for people in the age group of 70-79 years.


Polycythemia Vera is caused by the over production of red blood cells. However, it is also accompanied by an increase in the number of white blood cells and platelets as well. The occurrence of this rare disease is found more in men than women and it is more common in patients who are above the age of 40. The roots of this bone marrow disorder have been tracked to gene mutation called JAK2V617F but the basis of this mutation has not yet been discovered.


The symptoms of Polycythemia Vera arise as a result of an increase in the thickness of blood or as a result of blood clotting. The most common symptoms of this disorder are difficulty in breathing while lying down, dizziness, headache, excessive bleeding, feeling of itchiness (particularly after taking a warm bath), fullness in the left part of upper abdominal region (caused due to spleen enlargement), red coloration (especially of the face), certain phlebitis symptoms, and shortness of breath. In addition to these, some other symptoms which may not be too commonly found are fatigue, problems with vision, red skin spots, and bluish color of the skin.


The diagnosis of Polycythemia Vera is not easy because this disease may not exhibit any signs or symptoms for years. It can only be diagnosed through routine blood tests which are carried out for some other purpose. In case the doctor feels that one's blood test results are not normal, the person may be advised to take more tests.

PV will be diagnosed based on the person's symptoms, overall health, medical history, age, physical examination, and test results. In the physical examination, the doctor will look for symptoms like red coloration on the face, bleeding of gums or an enlarged spleen. In case the doctor confirms the presence of Polycythemia, one will be referred to a Hematologist who will have to determine whether the Polycythemia is primary or secondary. For this, the person may have to undergo physical examination and some relevant tests. The blood tests through which PV can be diagnosed include a complete blood count, blood smear, erythropoietin level, and also bone marrow tests.

Article by : Erik R Johnson

Article Source : What Is Polycythemia Vera?

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