Signs of rare blood disorder mimic common conditions
Fatigue. Headache. Dizziness. Itchy, red skin. Shortness of breath. Numb extremities.
The symptoms of the rare blood disease, polycythemia vera, are so common that they often go unnoticed in the early stages. For most people, the condition is picked up during a routine blood test, where the number of red blood cells is found to be high. Sometimes the number of white blood cells and platelets can also be elevated.
According to mayoclinic.com, in polycythemia vera, the bone marrow produces too many red blood cells. The excess cells thicken the blood, making it more difficult for the blood to pass through the veins and arteries, and blood clots can occur. This puts the person at risk for life-threatening strokes or aneurisms.
Eric Padron, MD, an oncologist at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, sees patients after their initial diagnosis, for a second opinion and decisions on the best method of treatment.
"Since it is a rare condition, patients are usually referred to someone who has treated many such patients," said Padron. "If polycythemia vera goes untreated, it can be lethal. But with treatment, patients can live a long time with minimal impact."
Polycythemia vera is a chronic condition. There is no cure for the disease, but several types of treatment are successful at controlling the symptoms and helping patients to live longer, comfortable lives.
The first line of treatment is usually phlebotomy, where a prescribed amount of blood is removed from the body. It is done the same way blood donation is performed. How often phlebotomy needs to be performed depends upon the patient and how well he responds to the treatment.
If phlebotomy alone doesn't control the condition, medication is often added. The drug Hydrea has been shown to help the body reduce the number of red blood cells it produces and reduce the risk of blood clots that may lead to stroke.
"It's common to use both phlebotomy and Hydrea to control polycythemia vera," said Padron. Studies have shown that, with treatment, patients can live 10 years or longer after diagnosis, said Padron. Since most patients are over age 60 when they're diagnosed, they often develop other diseases at that point.
Polycythemia vera occurs most often in men, though woman has been diagnosed as well. Though its incidence increases with age, a few cases have been reported in young adults and children.
According to MedlinePlus, of the U.S. National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, additional symptoms can include a bluish skin color, red spots on the skin, vision problems, and symptoms of phlebitis, such as inflammation.
For more information on polycythemia vera, visit www.mayoclinic.com/health/polycythemia-vera/DS00919.