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Polycythemia (High Red Blood Cell Count) (cont.)

Medical Treatment

The mainstay of therapy for polycythemia vera remains phlebotomy (blood letting). The goal of phlebotomy is to keep the hematocrit around 45% in men and 42% in women. Initially, it may be necessary to do phlebotomy every 2 to 3 days and remove 250 to 500 milliliters of blood each session. Once the goal is reached, maintenance phlebotomy can be performed less frequently.

A commonly recommended medication for the treatment of polycythemia is called hydroxyurea (Hydrea). This is especially advised in people at risk of clot formation. At age greater than 70, having both an elevated platelet count (thrombocytosis) greater than 1.5 million and cardiovascular disease makes the use of hydroxyurea more favorable. Hydroxyurea is also recommended in patients who are unable to tolerate phlebotomy. Hydroxyurea can lower all elevated blood counts (WBC, red blood cells, and platelets), whereas phlebotomy only lowers the HCT.

Aspirin has also been used in treating polycythemia to lower the risk of clotting (thrombotic) events. Its use is generally avoided in those people with any bleeding history. Aspirin is usually used in conjunction with phlebotomy.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/30/2014

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