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Polycythemia Vera


Polycythemia vera (PV) is a condition that causes your bone marrow to produce too many red blood cells (RBCs). RBCs carry oxygen throughout the body. Too many white blood cells (WBCs) and platelets may also be produced. The extra blood cells make your blood thicker than normal. Blood that is too thick cannot flow easily, so less oxygen is delivered to your body's tissues. Left untreated, PV is life-threatening. PV is usually caused by a gene mutation (change). Your risk for PV increases if you are male or older than 50 years.


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.

You may need extra oxygen

if your blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. You may get oxygen through a mask placed over your nose and mouth or through small tubes placed in your nostrils. Ask your healthcare provider before you take off the mask or oxygen tubing.


  • Anticoagulants or aspirin may be used to help thin your blood to reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke. Aspirin also relives bone pain and burning in your hands or feet.
  • Antihistamines may be given to reduce itching.
  • Antigout medicines may be given to help reduce uric acid. Gout is a type of arthritis that causes uric acid to collect in joints.
  • Antacids or proton pump inhibitors may be given to help control stomach acid.
  • Medicine is sometimes given to make bone marrow create fewer RBCs.


  • Blood tests are used to find the number of RBCs, WBCs, and platelets you have. The tests may also be used to find your vitamin B12 and uric acid levels. Blood tests are used to check that treatment is working.
  • Aspiration is a procedure used to take a sample of bone marrow to be tested for low iron. The sample may also show if you have healthy bone marrow or if your bone marrow makes a normal amount of blood cells.
  • A blood oxygen level test may be needed. PV can cause the level to be lower than normal if RBCs cannot deliver oxygen correctly.


  • Phlebotomy is a procedure used to remove blood from your body. About a pint of blood is removed during a session. The procedure lowers the number of RBCs and thins the blood. Phlebotomy may be done every few days to every few months.
  • Radiation is a procedure used to stop bone marrow cells from producing too many RBCs.


You may develop kidney stones, gout (a type of arthritis), or stomach ulcers. Your liver or spleen may become enlarged. Heavy bleeding can occur from even a small cut. Your risk for blood clots is increased. Blood clots can lead to a stroke or heart attack. You may develop heart failure. Your risk for leukemia (blood cancer) or myelofibrosis (scar tissue replaces bone marrow) is increased. You may also develop myelogenous leukemia (AML). AML is cancer of blood or bone marrow cells. Without treatment, PV is life-threatening.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Polycythemia Vera (Inpatient Care)

Associated drugs

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Mayo Clinic Reference

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.