ComplicationsBy Mayo Clinic staff
Possible complications of polycythemia vera include:
- Blood clots. Polycythemia vera causes your blood to be thicker than normal, which can slow the rate of blood flow through your veins and arteries. Increased blood thickness and decreased blood flow, as well as abnormalities in your platelets, increase your risk of blood clots. Blood clots can cause a stroke, a heart attack, or blockage of an artery in your lungs (pulmonary embolism) or in a vein deep within a muscle (deep vein thrombosis).
- Enlarged spleen (splenomegaly). Your spleen helps your body fight infection and filter unwanted material, such as old or damaged blood cells. The increased number of blood cells caused by polycythemia vera makes your spleen work harder than normal, which causes it to enlarge.
- Skin problems. Polycythemia vera may cause your skin to itch, especially after a warm bath or shower, or after sleeping in a warm bed. You may experience a burning or tingling sensation in your skin, particularly on your arms, legs, hands or feet. Your skin may also appear red, especially on your face.
- Problems due to high levels of red blood cells. Too many red blood cells can lead to a number of other complications, including open sores on the inside lining of your stomach, upper small intestine or esophagus (peptic ulcers) and inflammation in your joints (gout).
- Other blood disorders. In rare cases, polycythemia vera may lead to other blood diseases, including a progressive disorder in which bone marrow is replaced with scar tissue (myelofibrosis), a condition in which stem cells don't mature or function properly (myelodysplastic syndrome), or cancer of the blood and bone marrow (acute leukemia).
- Hoffman R, et al. The polycythemias. In: Hoffman R, et al. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2009. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?about=true&eid=4-u1.0-B978-0-443-06715-0..X5001-8--TOP&isbn=978-0-443-06715-0&uniqId=230100505-56. Accessed March 1, 2011.
- Polycythemia vera. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/poly/poly_whatis.html. Accessed March 1, 2011.