What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Polycythemia Vera (PV)?

Polycythemia vera is a chronic blood cancer. This means it lasts a long time and may never go away. Some people with PV may not have symptoms. Others have severe symptoms that interfere with their daily lives. PV is also a progressive disease. This means that it may advance or get worse over time.

It is important to talk to your Healthcare Professional about controlling your blood levels and disease-related symptoms. Knowing how PV is affecting you gives your Healthcare Professional important information to help manage your care.

What Are Common Polycythemia Vera (PV) Symptoms?

Common symptoms of polycythemia vera (PV) include:

  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Itching (especially after a warm shower)
  • Headache
  • Sweating (at night or during the day)
  • Blurred vision or blind spots
  • Painful burning or numbness of the hands or feet
  • Bleeding from the gums and heavy bleeding from small cuts
  • Bone pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Early feeling of fullness when eating
  • Pain under the left ribs
  • Problems concentrating
  • Dizziness, vertigo, lightheadedness
  • Insomnia
  • Reddening of the face, or a burning feeling on the skin
  • Angina (chest pain)
  • Ringing in the ears

What Are Complications From an Enlarged Spleen?

Your spleen helps your body fight infection and filter unwanted material, such as old or damaged blood cells. The increased number of blood cells caused by polycythemia vera makes your spleen work harder than normal. This causes the spleen to get bigger. An enlargement of the spleen is known as splenomegaly (splee-nuh-MEG-uh-lee). Symptoms of an enlarged spleen can include:

  • Pain or discomfort in your abdomen or under your left ribs
  • Feeling full when you haven't eaten or have eaten very little


30% & 40%

of patients with PV present with an enlarged spleen.

It is important to tell your Healthcare Professional about any symptoms you have, even if you are not sure they are related to your polycythemia vera. Talking to your Healthcare Professional about your symptoms helps you both:

  • Understand how PV is affecting you
  • Follow how your PV is changing over time
  • Discuss options for managing your PV and its symptoms

What Should I Know About Blood Counts and PV?

Hematocrit is a measure of the volume of red cells in the blood and is stated as a percentage. Signs that your PV is not being controlled can include a hematocrit level above 45%. Medical research suggests that an elevated hematocrit level can increase the risk of serious health problems, such as blood clots leading to heart attack or stroke.

Your Healthcare Professional may have a different hematocrit target for you based on your individual case, and may periodically order blood tests to monitor your condition. In addition to hematocrit, your Healthcare Professional may look at your red blood cell count, white blood cell count, and platelet count. Keeping your blood counts—particularly your hematocrit—at the right levels is an important goal in managing PV. Study findings have shown that for some patients, stabilizing blood counts can help lessen the chance of serious complications.


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