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What is Polycythemia Vera (PV)?

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Polycythemia vera (PV) is an extremely rare blood disorder (five cases per million persons) which causes the red blood count to be much higher than normal. For persons with PV, the production of red blood cells goes into overdrive causing the body to produce more red blood cells than is healthy for the average person.

The affect of the presence of these extra red blood cells is that the blood actually thickens, causing it to flow more slowly. As a result of the slower blood flow, you may be more prone to experience blood clots or blocked arteries and veins. This disorder may also lead to angina, heart failure or heart attack and stroke.

PV has also been known to lead to the enlargement of the liver and spleen, stomach ulcers, kidney stones, gout, myelofibrosis (bone marrow replaced by scar tissue) and acute myelogenous leukemia (AML).

PV is a slow acting disease and a person may have undiagnosed PV for years before symptoms present themselves. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, when symptoms do present themselves, they include: “headaches, dizziness, itching, and vision problems such as blurred or double vision.” In addition, persons may experience unusual bleeding around the gums or from small cuts. Fatigue, weight loss and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath may also be symptoms of PV. There is also a tendency for the spleen to enlarge so persons with PV may also experience “feelings of pressure or fullness on the left side of the abdomen.” (NHLBI)

Types of polycythemia:

There are two main types of PV, polycythemia vera (primary polycythemia) and secondary polycythemia. Each of these two types of polycythemia are caused by different stimuli.

Primary Polycythemia:
Primary polycythemia is caused by a mutation in the JAK2 gene (the JAK2 V617F mutation). More than 90% of persons with PV possess the JAK2 gene mutation. The JAK2 gene supplies the body with a special protein that actually tells the red blood cells to grow. When the JAK2 gene mutates, the red blood cells grow –- and grow –- and grow. The cause of the JAK2 gene mutation isn’t known.

Primary polycythemia tends to run in families.

Add a Comment3 Comments


Wow! Thank you for sharing your experience. It sounds definitely "Baaaaad" to me! Is epistaxis a recent diagnosis for you or have you been a lifelong sufferer of this disorder? I know that many people go undiagnosed and do not seek medical attention, particularly if the incident is mild. I'm glad that you sought medical attention and that they were able to help.

January 18, 2010 - 9:51am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Mary Kyle)

to Mary Kyle:I never had had a nose bleed before, not during the silent years of PV taking hold......just since the dx. which was 2001.

January 21, 2010 - 3:59am
EmpowHER Guest

When I was younger, the blood bank was so happy to see me as I had extra good platelets. (a clue ?)
My biggest concern is epistaxis....deep in the nostril, which even the E.R. docs at a large med. center could not stop. Called in experienced ENT who, after 4 hrs. of bleed and 4 pints lost, was able to pack the nostril. Baaaaad experience.

January 18, 2010 - 4:05am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.