Hyperviscosity Syndrome

Written by Elly Dock | Published on June 25, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is Hyperviscosity Syndrome?

Hyperviscosity syndrome is a condition in which blood is not able to flow freely through your arteries. Patients may experience arterial blockages due to too many red blood cells, white blood cells, or proteins in the bloodstream. It is most common in infants and children. It can affect their growth due to lack of blood flow to vital organs, such as the kidneys and brain.

What Causes Hyperviscosity Syndrome?

This condition can occur when a person’s level of total red blood cells is above 65 percent. In infants, this can be caused by numerous conditions that developed during gestation or at birth. These conditions may include improper clamping of the umbilical cord, diseases inherited from the parents, birth defects, or the mother experiencing gestational diabetes.

It can also be caused by situations in which there isn’t enough oxygen delivered to the tissues in a child’s body. Twin-twin transfusion syndrome, in which twins share blood between them in-utero, may be another cause.

Hyperviscosity syndrome can also be caused by conditions that affect the bones, including:

  • leukemia: cancer of the blood
  • polycythemia vera: a blood disorder in which bone marrow overproduces red blood cells
  • essential thrombocytosis: a blood disorder in which bone marrow overproduces blood platelets
  • myelodysplastic disorders: blood disorders that can lead to severe anemia

Who Is at Risk for Hyperviscosity Syndrome?

This condition mainly affects infants, though it can continue to be an issue throughout adulthood. This will depend on whether or not you responded to or received enough treatment during childhood. If you have a family history of this syndrome, your baby is at a higher risk of developing it.

Also, those who have had the serious bone conditions mentioned above are at a greater risk of developing hyperviscosity syndrome.

What Are the Symptoms of Hyperviscosity Syndrome?

The signs associated with this condition include seizures and a reddish tone to the skin. If your infant is unusually sleepy or does not want to feed normally, this is an indication that something is wrong. Generally, the symptoms associated with this condition are the result of complications that occur when vital organs do not receive enough oxygen through the blood.

Other symptoms of hyperviscosity syndrome include:

  • visual disturbances
  • headache
  • vertigo
  • seizure
  • coma

How Is Hyperviscosity Syndrome Diagnosed?

If the doctor suspects that your infant has this syndrome, he or she may order a blood test to determine the amount of red blood cells in the child’s bloodstream. Your doctor may find symptoms that indicate your infant is experiencing jaundice, kidney failure, or breathing problems as a result of the syndrome.

Other tests may be necessary to reach a diagnosis. These may include:

  • urinalysis: to measure glucose, blood, and protein in the urine
  • blood sugar test: to check blood sugar levels
  • blood urea nitrogen test: to determine if protein is breaking down
  • creatinine test: to measure the blood in the kidneys
  • blood gases level test: to check for oxygen levels in the blood

How Is Hyperviscosity Syndrome Treated?

If your doctor determines that your infant does have this condition, he or she will be monitored for possible complications. Your doctor may decide that your baby needs a blood transfusion to decrease the amount of red blood cells in his or her bloodstream. Assuming they have a matching blood type, this transfusion may be provided by the parents or another family member.

The doctor may also recommend giving more fluids to the baby, as this may be able to reduce blood thickness. If your baby does not respond to feedings, it may be necessary to use an IV to administer more fluids.

If hyperviscosity syndrome is caused by an underlying condition, such as leukemia, that condition needs to be treated properly or symptoms will likely continue.

What Can Be Expected in the Long-Term?

If your baby has only had a mild case of the syndrome and treatment is provided, there is a good chance for recovery. Some children who have been diagnosed with this syndrome have neurological problems later on. This is generally the result of lack of oxygen being delivered to the brain and other vital organs. If you believe that your child may be experiencing complications, or if you have noticed any unusual changes, contact your doctor.

In situations where the diagnosis is more severe or the baby is not responding to treatment, complications may occur. These complications can include:

  • stroke
  • kidney failure
  • decreased motor control
  • loss of movement
  • death of intestinal tissue
  • seizures
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