Hyperviscosity Syndrome

Medically reviewed by Steven Kim, MD on December 17, 2015Written by Elly Dock on June 25, 2012

What Is Hyperviscosity Syndrome?

Hyperviscosity syndrome is a condition in which blood isn’t able to flow freely through your arteries. You may have arterial blockages due to too many red blood cells, white blood cells, or proteins in your bloodstream. This syndrome is most common in infants and children. It can affect their growth by reducing blood flow to vital organs, such as the kidneys and brain.

What Are the Symptoms of Hyperviscosity Syndrome?

The symptoms associated with this condition include headaches, seizures, and a reddish tone to the skin. If your infant is unusually sleepy or doesn’t 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 don’t receive enough oxygen through the blood.

Other symptoms of hyperviscosity syndrome include:

  • visual disturbances
  • vertigo
  • seizure
  • coma

What Causes Hyperviscosity Syndrome?

This syndrome occurs when your level of total red blood cells is above 65 percent. In infants, this can be caused by numerous conditions that develop during gestation or at birth. These include:

  • improper clamping of the umbilical cord
  • diseases inherited from the parents
  • birth defects
  • gestational diabetes

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

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

  • leukemia, which is a cancer of the blood
  • polycythemia vera, which occurs when bone marrow produces too many red blood cells
  • essential thrombocytosis, which occurs when bone marrow produces too many blood platelets
  • myelodysplastic disorders, which are blood disorders that can lead to severe anemia

Who Is at Risk for Hyperviscosity Syndrome?

This condition mainly affects infants, but it can continue throughout adulthood. This will depend on whether or not you responded to or received the appropriate treatment during childhood. Your baby is at a higher risk of developing this syndrome if you have a family history of it.

Also, those who have a history of serious bone conditions are at a greater risk of developing hyperviscosity syndrome.

How Is Hyperviscosity Syndrome Diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects that your infant has this syndrome, they’ll order a blood test to determine the amount of red blood cells in your child’s bloodstream. Other tests may be necessary to reach a diagnosis. These may include:

Also, your doctor may find that your infant is experiencing things like jaundice, kidney failure, or breathing problems as a result of the syndrome.

How Is Hyperviscosity Syndrome Treated?

If your baby’s doctor determines that your baby has hyperviscosity syndrome, your baby 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 their bloodstream. You or another family member may provide blood for the transfusion if you have a matching blood type.

Your doctor may also recommend giving more fluids to your baby to reduce blood thickness. If your baby doesn’t respond to feedings, you may need to get fluids intravenously.

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

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

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

Complications may occur if the diagnosis is more severe or if your baby isn’t responding to treatment. These complications can include:

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

Be sure to report any symptoms your baby is having to their doctor right away.

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