Polycythemia (High Red Blood Cell Count) (cont.)

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Can polycythemia be prevented?

  • Polycythemia due to a secondary cause such as long standing smoking or exposure to carbon monoxide can be prevented by omitting these risks.
  • Reducing risk factors for heart failure, such as, controlling high blood pressure and diabetes mellitus, can potentially reduce the risk of polycythemia.
  • Congenital and primary polycythemia disorders, however, are not preventable.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for polycythemia?

The outlook on polycythemia depends on the underlying cause. Overall the general outlook is favorable for people with this condition, especially those with secondary causes. The outlook for primary polycythemia is fair. While it is typically incurable and long-standing, for many people, it is controllable and treatable. For example, untreated, polycythemia vera (PV) was initially thought to have a poor prognosis with a life expectancy of one to two years from the time of diagnosis. However, polycythemia vera prognosis is now greatly improved to 10-15 years survival after diagnosis with treatment by phlebotomy alone. The addition of medications, such as, hydroxyurea or aspirin may improve survival even more.


Ma X, Vanasse G, Cartmel B, Wang Y, Selinger HA.;Prevalence of polycythemia vera and essential thrombocythemia.Am J Hematol. 2008 May;83(5):359-62. doi: 10.1002/ajh.21129.Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.

Spivak, JL, Silver, RT, The revised World Health Organization diagnostic criteria for polycythemia vera, essential thrombocytosis, and primary myelofibrosis: an alternative proposal http://bloodjournal.hematologylibrary.org/content/112/2/231.full.

Medscape. "Polycythemia."

Medscape. "Polycythemia, Secondary."

Harrison's Principles on Internal Medicine, 14th edition, 2011.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/29/2015

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