Understanding Polycythemia Vera (PV)
Polycythemia Vera (PV) is a rare type of blood cancer that causes your body to produce too many blood cells. This excess production can lead to a thickening of blood, also known as “hyperviscosity,” which can cause several health problems. PV is often classified as a myeloproliferative neoplasm or MPN, which is a type of bone marrow cancer.
PV is tricky to diagnose because many of its symptoms are similar to other medical conditions. This article will walk you through the symptoms of PV and what you can do to manage them.
Common Symptoms of Polycythemia Vera
Headaches and Dizziness
Many people with PV experience frequent headaches or dizziness. The increased thickness of the blood can make it harder for oxygen to reach the brain, leading to these symptoms. These headaches can be severe and often occur in the morning or after a hot shower.
Another common symptom of PV is itchy skin or pruritus. This symptom can occur at any time of the day, but it is often worse after a warm shower or bath. The exact cause of itching in PV is not known, but it is believed to be due to a buildup of histamine or other inflammatory molecules in the skin.
Fatigue and Weakness
Due to the decreased oxygen flow to the brain, many people with PV experience fatigue and weakness. This symptom can make it challenging to complete daily activities like exercise or even household chores. It is common to feel fatigued even after a good night’s sleep.
Bone Pain and Joint Pain
The increased production of blood cells can cause bone pain and joint pain in people with PV. The pain is often worse in the arms, legs, or back. The pain can be mild, moderate, or severe and can last for a few hours or several days.
Abdominal Pain and Enlargement
For some people with PV, the spleen can become enlarged, causing abdominal pain, discomfort, and fullness. This symptom can also make it challenging to eat a regular-sized meal.
Shortness of Breath and Chest Pain
The increased thickness of the blood can also affect the lungs, leading to shortness of breath and chest pain. This symptom can be severe and may occur during exercise or daily activities.
Another symptom of PV is blurred vision. This symptom is due to the thickened blood restricting the flow of oxygen to the eyes. Continued untreated PV can lead to vision loss.
Managing Polycythemia Vera Symptoms
While there is no cure for PV, there are several ways to manage its symptoms. Your doctor may recommend one or several of the following treatments:
Phlebotomy is a procedure where blood is removed from the body to reduce the number of blood cells. This process can help to manage the symptoms of PV by reducing blood viscosity.
There are several medications available to reduce the production of blood cells and manage symptoms. The type of medication prescribed will depend on the severity of the symptoms and other medical conditions you may have.
Radiation therapy is also a treatment option for people with PV, which involves using high-energy particles to target and destroy cancerous cells in the bone marrow. Radiation therapy is typically only used in severe cases of PV.
Living with Polycythemia Vera
Living with PV can be challenging, but it’s essential to manage the symptoms to maintain quality of life. Here are a few things you can do to live well with PV:
Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy and balanced diet is essential, it can provide you with the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy and maintain your energy levels. It also helps in managing the symptoms of PV.
Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated can help to thin your blood, making it easier to flow through your body. This can help to manage symptoms like headaches and dizziness.
Staying active or doing regular exercise can help to reduce fatigue and manage the symptoms of the disease. It’s essential to work with your doctor to come up with an exercise plan that works for you.
Stress can worsen the symptoms of PV, and it is essential to manage it through relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation. It is also important to avoid over-stimulating activities, which can lead to excessive production of blood cells.
Join a Support Group
Living with PV can be challenging, and it’s helpful to connect with others who understand what you’re going through. Joining a support group can provide you with the support and motivation you need to manage the disease successfully.
Polycythemia Vera (PV) is a rare type of blood cancer that causes your body to produce too many blood cells. The excess blood cells can lead to a thickening of blood, causing several health problems. PV symptoms include headaches and dizziness, itchy skin, fatigue and weakness, bone pain and joint pain, abdominal pain and enlargement, shortness of breath, and chest pain, blurred vision, and others. While there is no cure for PV, several treatments can manage the symptoms, including phlebotomy, medications, and radiation therapy. A healthy lifestyle can help reduce symptoms as well. Staying hydrated, staying active, eating a healthy diet can positively impact the symptoms of PV.
Frequently Asked Questions About Polycythemia Vera Symptoms
- What causes PV? PV is a type of myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN), which means it is caused by mutations in the bone marrow cells.
- How is PV diagnosed? PV is diagnosed using several tests, including a complete blood count (CBC), bone marrow biopsy, and genetic testing.
- Can PV be fatal? If left untreated, PV can lead to serious health problems like heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots, which can be fatal.
- Can PV symptoms be managed? Yes, PV symptoms can be managed with medication, phlebotomy, and radiation therapy. You can also manage your symptoms with lifestyle changes like staying hydrated, eating a healthy diet, staying active, and managing stress.
- National Organization for Rare Disorders. Polycythemia Vera. (n.d.). https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/polycythemia-vera/
- Mayo Clinic. Polycythemia Vera. (n.d.). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/polycythemia-vera/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355873
- American Cancer Society. How is Polycythemia Vera Treated? (n.d.). https://www.cancer.org/cancer/polycythemia-vera/treating.html