Polycythemia vera – Causes, symptoms, and remedies
Polycythemia vera – Causes, symptoms, and remedies

The red blood cells in the blood are made in the bone marrow. The cells contain hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to various regions of the body. However, sometimes people may develop a condition called polycythemia vera that causes the bone marrow to create excessive red blood cells. The elevated RBC count thickens the blood, slowing down its flow. While the disease is rare, it may lead to health complications.

The exact cause of polycythemia vera is yet to be determined. However, the disease develops when there is a mutation in a gene that may trigger problems in blood cell production. The body usually regulates the quantity of each of the three types of blood cells—red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. However, when one develops polycythemia vera, the bone marrow produces an abnormally large number of these cells.

Many people with polycythemia vera do not have noticeable symptoms, mainly because the condition progresses gradually. Some vague symptoms caused by the disease are dizziness, fatigue, blurred vision, and headache. However, more specific symptoms include:

  • Numbness, burning or tingling sensation, and weakness in the hands, feet, legs, or arms
  • Itching after a warm bath or shower
  • Unusual bleeding, including bleeding gums or a nosebleed
  • Painful swelling in one of the joints, usually the big toe
  • Feeling full after eating and bloating or pain in the left upper abdomen as a result of an enlarged spleen
  • Difficulty breathing while lying down
  • Shortness of breath

If one is diagnosed with polycythemia vera, the doctor will recommend treatments such as frequent blood withdrawals or prescription options to reduce the number of red blood cells. However, one may also follow these remedies at home to help them manage the symptoms:

Regular exercise: Moderate physical activity like walking may help improve blood flow in the body. One can also indulge in leg and ankle stretches and other exercises to improve blood circulation. Exercising may help reduce the risk of blood clots.

Avoiding low-oxygen environments: As polycythemia vera may lead to breathing difficulties, one should avoid high altitudes. Such places could reduce oxygen levels in the blood and make it even harder to breathe. Additionally, one should avoid activities like skiing or climbing mountains as these may hamper oxygen levels in the body.

Skincare: To curb symptoms like itching, one should bathe in cold water, use a gentle cleanser, and pat dry their skin after a shower or bath. They could also add starch, like cornstarch, to the bathwater to reduce the urge to itch. Avoiding heated whirlpools, hot showers, and hot tubs is also important to avoid worsening the symptoms.

Checking for persistent sores: Poor blood circulation could make it difficult for sores to heal easily, especially those on the hands and feet. So, one must look for such developments regularly and inform their healthcare experts if they notice sores.