Polycythaemia

This term generally means having an abnormally high number of red blood cells (erythrocytes) in the blood.

Overview

This term generally means having an abnormally high number of red blood cells (erythrocytes) in the blood. Typical symptoms include a permanently red face and severe itching. Sufficient exercise and giving up smoking are sensible measures to support medical treatment.

Symptoms

The increase in the number of red blood cells (erythrocytes) makes the blood “thicker”. Possible consequences include:

Causes and treatment

Causes

  • Often, an underlying cause can't be identified (idiopathic)
  • Lack of oxygen (e.g. chronic lung disease, staying at high altitude)
  • Doping with male sex hormones (androgens) or EPO (erythropoietin)
  • Side effect of cancer

Further treatment by your doctor / in hospital

The doctor investigates whether polycythaemia is present and identifies the form.

Possible tests
  • Blood tests
  • X-ray and ultrasound (sonography)
  • Kidney and lung function tests, heart examinations
  • Examination of bone marrow
Possible therapies
  • Blood thinning (anticoagulation)
  • Bloodletting (venesection; controlled amounts of blood are drawn in order to remove some of the excess red blood cells)
  • Chemotherapy / radiation (to control and halt the multiplication of blood cells)
  • Treatment of the cause (e.g. chronic lung disease)
    Altitude-related polycythaemia seldom requires treatment.

What can I do myself?

  • Exercise
  • Avoid sitting for long (blood clots)
  • Stop smoking
  • Drink enough

When to see a doctor?

  • If one or more of the above symptoms have been present for a longer period

Synonyms

polycythaemia, erythrocytosis, polyglobulia

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CSS offers no guarantee for the accuracy and completeness of the information. The information published is no substitute for professional advice from a doctor or pharmacist.

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