What is polycythaemia?

Polycythaemia is defined as having increased level of red blood cells in the blood. This causes thickening of the blood and diminished capability to move through the blood vessels and body organs.

Most of the signs of the condition are brought about by the slow movement of blood.

What are the signs?

In mild cases of polycythaemia, it does not trigger any issues, but some might experience:

  • Blurry vision
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Reddened skin especially in the hands, feet and face
  • Dizziness
  • Sneezing Coughing Outdoors2

    Bleeding issues such as bruising and nosebleeds.

    High blood pressure

  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Confusion
  • Bleeding issues such as bruising and nosebleeds
  • Gout which causes joint pain, swelling and rigidity
  • Itchy skin especially after a shower or bath

A doctor must be consulted if the individual has persistent symptoms.

What are the causes?

Polycythaemia can be categorized into various forms which is based on the underlying cause. In some cases, the cause could not be identified.

  • Apparent – the red cell count is within the normal range but there is low amount of plasma in the blood which leads to thickening. It is often brought about by smoking, overweight, using certain drugs including diuretics or intake of excessive alcohol.
  • Absolute – the body generates excess red blood cells
  • Polycythaemia vera (PV) – this is a rare condition typically caused by a defect in a gene where the bone marrow cells generate excess red blood cells
  • Secondary – this is an underlying ailment that causes increased production of erythropoietin. This is the hormone generated by the kidneys that rouses the bone marrow cells to generate red blood cells.

Management of polycythaemia

The treatment for polycythaemia is aimed on preventing symptoms and complications as well as treat any underlying causes.


Venesection is the simplest and fastest approach in reducing the number of red cells in the body. It might be an option if the individual has PV, history of blood clots or the symptoms indicate that the blood is too thick.

The procedure involves the removal of one pint of blood at a time in the same process utilized for a blood donation. The frequency of treatment tends to vary for each person. Initially, it is required every week but once the condition is under control, it is only needed every 6-12 weeks or less.

Drugs to lower the production of red blood cells

In cases of PV, drugs might be given to slow down the generation of red blood cells. Various drugs can be used which is based on the health, age, response to venesection and red blood cell count.

Drugs to prevent blood clots

Daily low-dose aspirin tablets might be given for cases of PV for the prevention of blood clots as well as lower the risk for serious complications.

For those with the apparent or secondary form, low-dose aspirin might also be suggested.


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