Polycythemia (High Red Blood Cell Count) (cont.)
Siamak T. 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.
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.
In this Article
- What is polycythemia?
- What are normal ranges of hematocrit, red cell counts, and hemoglobin?
- What causes polycythemia?
- What are the causes of primary polycythemia?
- What are the common causes of secondary polycythemia?
- Can other sources of erythropoietin (EPO) cause polycythemia?
- What is relative polycythemia?
- What is stress polycythemia?
- What are the risk factors for polycythemia?
- What are the symptoms of polycythemia?
- When should I see a doctor about polycythemia?
- How is polycythemia diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for polycythemia?
- What are the complications of polycythemia?
- Can polycythemia be prevented?
- What is the outlook (prognosis) for polycythemia?
- Polycythemia At A Glance
- Find a local Hematologist in your town
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.
Polycythemia At A Glance
- Polycythemia means increased red blood cell volume.
- Polycythemia is divided into two main categories; primary and secondary.
- Polycythemia can be linked to secondary causes, such as, chronic hypoxia or
tumors releasing erythropoietin.
- Polycythemia vera due to abnormally increased red cell production in the
- Treatment of secondary polycythemia is dependent on the underlying
- Polycythemia is treated by phlebotomy (controlled blood letting) and hydroxyurea.
eMedicine.com; "Polycythemia, Secondary."
Harrison's Principles on Internal Medicine, 14th edition, 2006
Last Editorial Review: 8/14/2009
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