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What are symptoms of erythrocytosis?

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You may have heard about blood loss from the body especially in cases such as accidents but have you actually wondered or asked a doctor if there is actually a condition leading to excessive blood in the body? In reality, there is actually such a condition and it often goes unnoticed as people tend to not realise it is actually a medical condition. This condition is most likely associated with erythrocytosis.

Erythrocytosis is defined as the increase of red blood cells relative to the volume of blood. This definition may be confused with polycythemia as it is also associated with excessive blood but with polycythemia is defined as increase in red blood cells mass. One thing for sure, erythrocytosis can be a result of polycythemia, specifically polycythemia vera due to the abnormal cells in the bone marrow producing too many red blood cells. Erythrocytosis can be divided into many types, which is:

  • Primary erythrocytosis which is associated with polycythemia vera as mentioned above.
  • Secondary erythrocytosis due to the disorder that increases the hormone erythropoietin stimulating the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells such as due to medical conditions or drugs.
  • Tumour-associated erythrocytosis resulted from certain tumours or cysts that secrete erythropoietin such as liver, brain and uterus.
  • Congenital erythrocytosis that occurs from birth and usually related to genetics that affect the haemoglobin function.
  • Relative erythrocytosis which means there are no extra red blood cells but it seems like a condition of extra red blood cells due to concentrated plasma in the bloodstream. This is a result of burns, vomiting, diarrhoea, drinking an inadequate amount of fluids or drugs that speeds up the diuretic process which is the kidney process of eliminating salt and water.

Symptoms of erythrocytosis are similar no matter what type of erythrocytosis a person faces. In general, symptoms are caused by the red blood cells’ functions themselves. Red blood cells function to carry oxygen for the body’s needs. Hence, when the function of red blood cells is hindered due to the many red blood cells, symptoms arise associated with this event. Common symptoms include headache, weakness, fatigue, light-headedness and shortness of breath. Other symptoms may include blurred vision, nosebleeds and high blood pressure. Since symptoms of erythrocytosis and polycythemia vera is almost the same, it is best to get medical advice once any symptoms are experienced frequently.

Doctors usually diagnose patients based on symptoms and patient’s health history such as history of drug or family diagnosed with erythrocytosis. Blood test is common to measure the amount of oxygen and level of erythropoietin beside the red blood cells profile. In cases of erythropoietin being normal or high, doctors will proceed to do further tests to check for the causes of secondary erythrocytosis. These tests include tests for hormone disorder or possible tumour. In cases of congenital erythrocytosis, apart from the blood test, genetic testing may be recommended to determine the specific causes.

Treatment of erythrocytosis depends on the type of the erythrocytosis itself. In primary erythrocytosis, phlebotomy is the main treatment. Phlebotomy is a procedure to draw out the extra blood in the body to improve the blood flow. In secondary and other types of erythrocytosis, treatments depend on the cause. For instance, secondary erythrocytosis caused by oxygen deprivation is treated with oxygen and if it is because a person is a smoker, smoking cessation is recommended. Rarely is phlebotomy used to treat secondary erythrocytosis. In cases of tumour-associated erythrocytosis, removal of the tumour should fix this issue. Discontinuing drugs or treatment of hormone disorder causing secondary erythrocytosis can help improve the red blood cells condition. In cases that involve low plasma level or concentrated one, fluid treatments by mouth or intravenous through the vein can help improve the relative erythrocytosis.

In essence, there is actually a condition of extra or excessive blood in the body known as erythrocytosis. It is important to treat erythrocytosis as it can cause great discomfort when it is left untreated. Plus, since erythrocytosis can be caused by many reasons, to leave it untreated might actually lead to other medical conditions that can be life-threatening. Erythrocytosis can increase risk for a person to get a heart attack or stroke due to the effect it has on increasing blood clots. It also can increase risk for other blood cancers such as leukaemia. The best way to understand if you actually have erythrocytosis is to get regular health screening. In this way, you can detect the problem early on. Another way is to immediately get yourself checked if you have symptoms associated with erythrocytosis. There are other ways you can avoid from erythrocytosis, do note this only apply for secondary erythrocytosis:

  • Avoid mountain climbing or living at high altitude since such places are low in oxygen and are at extreme temperatures.
  • Avoid usage of tobacco products or smoking as these substances often lead to blood cell issues and narrowing of the blood vessels.
  • Regular exercise can help improve blood circulation.
  • Drink lots of plain water and avoid drinking or using diuretics unnecessarily such as coffee and soda.
  • Avoid taking steroid or performance-enhancing drugs as it may interfere with normal production of erythropoietin hormone.

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