Polycythemia (High Red Blood Cell Count) Center

Polycythemia (elevated red blood cell count) is a rare blood disease in which the body produces too many red blood cells. Causes of polycythemia are either primary (acquired or genetic mutations) or secondary (diseases, conditions, high altitude). Examples of primary polycythemia include:

  • Fatigue
  • Excessive sweating
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Gouty arthritis, usually in big toe
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Feeling pressure or fullness on the left side of the abdomen where the spleen is located.
  • Vision problems
  • Heavy bleeding from minor cuts
  • Bleeding from the gums
  • Itching
  • Redness in the face
  • A burning feeling in the hands and feet

Complications of a high red blood cell count include blood clots, heart attack, stroke, enlarged liver and spleen, angina (heart pain), AML leukemia, and heart failure. Blood clots in the liver or kidney can cause sudden, intense pain. Treatment goals for patients with polycythemia are to manage symptoms and reduce the risk of complications like heart attack and stroke.

REFERENCE: NIH. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "What Causes Polycythemia Vera"? Updated: Mar 20, 2011.

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