What Are the Different Types of Polycythemia Vera Treatment?

A. Pasbjerg

Though there is no known cure for the disorder, there are many different types of polycythemia vera treatment to help lower a patient's blood cell counts, decrease the viscosity of the blood, and prevent bleeding or clotting. One of the primary forms of treatment is bloodletting, also known as phlebotomy. Certain drugs or procedures may be used to suppress production of blood cells in the bone marrow; medication may also be used to thin the blood and prevent clotting. Patients may also receive antihistamines or ultraviolet light treatment to ease itching associated with the disease.

Antihistamines may be taken to treat itching caused my polycythemia vera.
Antihistamines may be taken to treat itching caused my polycythemia vera.

Reducing the amount of blood in a patient's body is one of the most commonly used polycythemia vera treatments. To do so, blood is drawn out of the body using a needle in a procedure known as phlebotomy. This helps lower the overall blood volume in the body and reduces the blood's viscosity, allowing it to move more easily through the body and function properly.

A patient's blood may be removed to lower red blood cell counts in polycythemia vera treatment.
A patient's blood may be removed to lower red blood cell counts in polycythemia vera treatment.

Suppressing the bone marrow's ability to produce excess red blood cells is also often part of polycythemia vera treatment. Radiation is used in some cases, though it can increase a patient's chances of developing leukemia so is typically not a preferred treatment. The chemotherapy drug hydroxyurea is frequently used for marrow suppression. Another option is interferon, a drug that can boost the patient's immune system so it fights the bone marrow that is overproducing blood cells.

Blood thinners may also need to be part of polycythemia vera treatment, as the thickening of the blood that results from the overabundance of red blood cells can make patients prone to developing clots. One of the most common medications used is aspirin, though not all patients tolerate it well and may develop stomach or intestinal bleeding. Aspirin can also help with other symptoms of polycythemia vera, however, such as pain, itching, and burning sensations, so it can be quite helpful for some people.

In addition to trying to reduce the number of blood cells a patient has, polycythemia vera treatment may also be necessary to relieve secondary symptoms of the disease. One of the most common issues that affects people with polycythemia vera is severe itching, for which they may need to take medications like antihistamines. Ultraviolet light therapy may also be recommended to help reduce this problem.

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