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What Is Essential Thrombocythemia?

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  • Written By: Steve R.
  • Edited By: S. Pike
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2016
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Essential thrombocythemia is a rare disease that is characterized by a person’s body manufacturing an overabundance of platelets in bone marrow. A person of any age or race may contract the disease, but it is more prevalent in adults and women over the age of 50. Sometimes referred to as primary thrombocythemia, essential thrombocythemia may lead to leukemia and can be life threatening if not diagnosed. With proper medical care, a person with primary thrombocythemia may lead a normal life.

A person with the condition possesses abnormal stem cells in the bone marrow, which is where blood cells are produced. The stem cells create more blood cells than the body needs. This leads to the marrow becoming incapable of keeping the elements in blood under proper control.

A major symptom of essential thrombocythemia is abnormal blood clotting, which most commonly occurs in the hands and feet. If a clot develops in the brain, a person may experience a stroke. A person with the disorder is also at risk for a heart attack if a blood clot forms in the heart. Smoking and drinking alcohol increases the chances for contracting the condition. In addition, individuals who have diabetes or high blood pressure are at risk for developing essential thrombocythemia.

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A person with essential thrombocythemia may also suffer other symptoms including red or itchy skin, discomfort in the feet and hands, and headaches. Additional symptoms may include dizziness, fainting, and vision trouble. Less-common symptoms may include bloody noses, bruising, and blood in the stool. In some instances, a person with primary thrombocythemia may not display any symptoms.

Women who have the condition may have difficult pregnancies. Before giving birth, a female may develop high blood pressure, leading to preeclampsia. Also, the disorder may cause the fetus to develop slowly and even lead to a premature birth. In addition, a miscarriage is possible.

The condition may be detected through examining a patient’s blood. This examination may include a blood count, which reveals the number of platelets in a person’s blood, and an observation of blood under a microscope to detect any abnormalities. Another way of testing for the disorder is by checking for irregularities in bone marrow cells.

Treatment for essential thrombocythemia may vary depending on age of a patient and the severity of platelet overproduction. In severe cases, particularly those involving blood clotting, an emergency procedure to eliminate platelets from the blood may be performed. In less severe cases, the use of aspirin may help with preventing blood clots. Engaging in healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and exercising daily, may also help to keep the condition under control.

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