How Is PV Diagnosed?

Polycythemia vera (PV) may develop slowly and remain unrecognized for years. It is often diagnosed by chance, following a routine exam by a Healthcare Professional. Often, PV is found during a blood test done for some other reason. In 30% of cases, however, it is diagnosed after a cardiovascular event.

Signs such as an enlarged left abdomen, and symptoms such as tiredness, itching, and sweating at night may also suggest PV.

Icon of a human heart with text that says – ~30% OF PV CASES ARE DIAGNOSED AFTER A CARDIOVASCULAR EVENT Icon of a human heart with text that says – ~30% OF PV CASES ARE DIAGNOSED AFTER A CARDIOVASCULAR EVENT

The following signs and symptoms should be evaluated:

  • Abnormal blood levels (increased hematocrit or hemoglobin)
  • Large spleen (an organ under your ribs and above the stomach on your left side)
  • Symptoms like tiredness, itching, or sweating

If your Healthcare Professional suspects you have PV, you will likely have blood tests, bone marrow tests, and genetic tests done to confirm the diagnosis.

Watch physician assistant Amber Essenmacher explain the potential benefits of consulting a myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) specialist after your diagnosis.

What Blood Tests May Be Used to Diagnose PV?

Blood tests in people with PV may show abnormalities in:

  • Red blood cells—deliver oxygen to all the cells of your body. Your organs, muscles, and other tissues need oxygen to work properly
  • Hematocrit (he-MAT-o-krit)—the percentage of red blood cells that make up the total blood volume
  • Hemoglobin (HE-mow-GLOW-bin)—the iron-rich protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen
  • White blood cells—help fight infections
  • Platelets—help your body stop bleeding by forming clots
  • Erythropoietin (eh-WREATH-row-poy-ee-tin)—a hormone that stimulates bone marrow to produce new red blood cells

Are Bone Marrow Tests Used in a Diagnosis?

To test for PV, your Healthcare Professional may remove a sample of your bone marrow and look at it under a microscope. The types of cells and their appearance can help distinguish PV from other blood disorders.

Is Genetic Testing Necessary for People With PV?

About 95% of people with polycythemia vera have a specific mutation, or change, in the JAK2 (Janus-associated kinase 2) gene. Genetic tests can show whether or not you have this mutation or other less common mutations found in people with this condition.

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I have had polycythemia vera for 15 years. It has not been an easy ride but I had the help of my beautiful family. –Cynthia, PV Community Member

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