Polycythemia - Experience

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What is polycythemia?

Polycythemia is a condition that results in an increased level of circulating red blood cells in the bloodstream. People with polycythemia have an increase in hematocrit, hemoglobin, or red blood cell count above the normal limits.

Polycythemia is normally reported in terms of increased hematocrit or hemoglobin.

  • Hematocrit (HCT): Polycythemia is considered when the hematocrit is greater than 48% in women and 52% in men.
  • Hemoglobin (HGB): Polycythemia is considered when a hemoglobin level of greater than 16.5g/dL in women or hemoglobin level greater than18.5 g/dL in men.

Polycythemia can be divided into two categories; primary and secondary.

  • Primary polycythemia: In primary polycythemia the increase in red blood cells is due to inherent problems in the process of red blood cell production.
  • Secondary polycythemia: Secondary polycythemia generally occurs as a response to other factors or underlying conditions that promote red blood cell production.

Red cell production (erythropoiesis) takes place in the bone marrow through a complex sequence of tightly regulated steps. The main regulator of the red cell production is the hormone erythropoietin (EPO). This hormone is largely secreted by the kidneys, although, about 10% may be produced and secreted by the liver.

Erythropoietin secretion is up-regulated in response to low oxygen levels (hypoxia) in the blood. More oxygen can be carried to tissues when erythropoietin stimulates red blood cell production in the bone marrow to compensate for the hypoxia.

Neonatal (newborn) polycythemia can be seen in 1% to 5% of newborns. The most common causes may be related to transfusion of blood, transfer of placental blood to the infant after delivery, or chronic inadequate oxygenation of the fetus (intrauterine hypoxia) due to placental insufficiency.

Return to Polycythemia (High Red Blood Cell Count)

See what others are saying

Comment from: pv, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: June 05

During my first phlebotomy for polycythemia vera (PV), my heart stopped for a bit, subsequent testing diagnosed/confirmed bradycardia. Cardiologist has not forbidden phlebotomy for PV treatment, has suggested some changes in the way it's done. The hematologist/oncologist does not want to do it again, wants to start hydroxyurea. I would prefer trying phlebotomy with precautions suggested by cardiologists.

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Comment from: bullard, 25-34 Female (Patient) Published: February 04

I have been sick now for about two months. I have extreme pain that starts at the top of my ribs and goes into my back. I find now that it is constant stomach pain and every time I eat I feel very sick. I have been hospitalized twice with kidney stones and have had a high blood count for a long time. The doctors don't seem to listen to me and just try and give me pain medication witch I don't like to take. I feel lost on what to do. I am always sick and feel run down I feel bad for my family.

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