Polycythemia vera (PV) can be a silent disease for years. You may have no signs or symptoms, and then find out during a routine blood test that your blood levels are high and you have the disease.

But knowing the potential signs and symptoms of this rare blood disease is one way to be diagnosed and receive treatment earlier.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms?

Many of the signs and symptoms of PV are a result of too many red blood cells. Having thicker blood reduces the amount of oxygen that flows through your body.

Some of the potential symptoms of PV include:

  • blurred or double vision
  • congestion
  • fatigue
  • itching
  • difficulty breathing when lying down
  • weight loss
  • heavy sweating

These symptoms can also be mistaken for other conditions. But as PV progresses and your blood thickens even more, the slowing of your blood’s flow may cause more serious problems, including:

  • bleeding gums
  • heavy bleeding from small cuts
  • joint swelling, especially in the big toe
  • bone pain
  • burning sensation in skin, especially in hands and feet
  • reddish facial color
  • reddish-purplish color on hands and feet

In the most serious cases of PV, the blood is unable to reach the organs. This can cause liver enlargement, blood clots, strokes, or heart attacks. Thrombosis and myelofibrosis are two other complications related to PV.

What Is Thrombosis?

For some people, thrombosis is the first indication of PV. Thrombosis is when a blood clot forms in either your veins or arteries. Veins are blood vessels that carry blood from your body to your heart. Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood away from your heart to your body.

The symptoms of thrombosis depend on the location of the clot. If it forms in your brain, you’ll likely have a stroke. If it forms in your heart, it’s a coronary or heart problem and you’ll likely have a heart attack or angina.

Deep vein thrombosis occurs when a blood clot forms in your abdominal veins, triggering a stroke or mini-stroke. A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot forms in your lungs.

Blood clots can also cause joint pain, contribute to kidney stones, gout, or peptic ulcers or sores in the lining of your stomach.

What Is Myelofibrosis?

For about 15 percent of those with PV, myelofibrosis may occur. Myelofibrosis is serious bone marrow scarring in which scar tissue replaces your bone marrow. This scarring means that you can no longer produce healthy, properly functioning cells.

Myelofibrosis may contribute to your liver and spleen becoming enlarged. Your doctor may recommend a bone marrow transplant if this occurs. Keep in mind, though, that reaching this stage of PV is rare.

The Takeaway

The key to treating PV is getting treatment early. Doing so can reduce the chances of any serious symptoms, including thrombosis or myelofibrosis, from occurring. Talk to your doctor if you develop any symptoms.