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Polycythemia Vera

What is polycythemia vera?

Polycythemia vera is a rare blood disorder in which there is an increase in all blood cells, particularly red blood cells. The increase in blood cells makes the blood more viscous (thick), leading to strokes or tissue and organ damage.

What causes polycythemia vera?

Polycythemia vera is one type of myeloproliferative disorder (MPD). Bone marrow contains stem cells that have the ability to mature into adult blood cells that enter the circulation, including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. These stem cells are referred to as pluripotent hematopoietic precursor cells, or PHPC, due to their versatility. Each PHPC can reproduce itself (clone), in addition to producing daughter cells, called blasts.

In MPD, one abnormal PHPC clone has an ability to overgrow and self-renew more effectively than normal PHPC clones. In polycythemia vera, there may be an increase in just the red blood cells, both the red and white blood cells, or in the red and white blood cells and platelets.

The cause of the abnormal PHPC clone is unknown.

Treatment for polycythemia vera:

Specific treatment for polycythemia vera will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference