Polycythemia (Elevated Red Blood Cell Count)

  • Medical Author:
    Siamak N. Nabili, MD, MPH

    Dr. Nabili received his undergraduate degree from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), majoring in chemistry and biochemistry. He then completed his graduate degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). His graduate training included a specialized fellowship in public health where his research focused on environmental health and health-care delivery and management.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

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What are the symptoms of polycythemia?

Symptoms of polycythemia can be none to minimal in many people. There are some general and non-specific symptoms that can be seen with polycythemia. Some of these include:

In patients with polycythemia vera, other blood disorders are also very common. Thus, bleeding problems or clotting events may be seen in these patients. Itching after showers or baths (post-bath pruritus) can also be seen in patients with polycythemia vera for unclear reasons. Joint pains also common in patients with polycythemia vera. Tender redness of the palms and soles is called erythromelalgia.

Symptoms of secondary polycythemia may be more closely attributed to the underlying condition, such as, chronic lung disease, than to polycythemia itself. Therefore, shortness of breath, chronic cough, sleep disturbance (sleep apnea), dizziness, poor exercise tolerance, or fatigue may be common in patients with polycythemia.

If polycythemia is related to kidney cancer, liver cancer, or other erythropoietin secreting tumors, the symptoms of these conditions, such as, weight loss, abdominal pain or fullness, or jaundice may be predominant.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/23/2016

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