Polycythemia Vera in Children
What is polycythemia vera in children?
Polycythemia vera is a very rare blood disorder in children. With polycythemia vera,
the bone marrow makes too many red blood cells. The extra cells make the blood too
thick. This may lead to blood clots. The clots can decrease the blood supply to organs,
tissues, and cells.
What causes polycythemia vera in a child?
Genetic mutations in bone marrow cells cause polycythemia vera. Some forms can be
passed from parents to children. Some forms are not.
What are the symptoms of polycythemia vera in a child?
Some children do not have symptoms and polycythemia vera may be found when they're
having blood tests for other reasons. Symptoms occur more often in adults.
Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. They can include:
Feeling weak and tired
Itching or burning
Reddish coloring of face
The symptoms of polycythemia can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child
sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is polycythemia vera diagnosed in a child?
The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He
or she will give your child a physical exam. Your child may also have tests, such
Hemoglobin and hematocrit. This test measures the amount of hemoglobin and red blood cells in the blood.
Complete blood count (CBC).A complete blood count checks the red blood cells, white blood cells, blood clotting
cells (platelets), and sometimes, young red blood cells (reticulocytes). It includes
hemoglobin and hematocrit and more details about the red blood cells.
Peripheral smear.A small sample of blood is examined under a microscope. Blood cells are checked to
see if they look normal or not.
Erythropoietin (EPO) level. This test measures the amount of EPO in the blood. EPO is a hormone that helps make
red blood cells.
Genetic tests. These tests look for gene mutations linked with polycythemia vera, such as JAK2,
CALR and MPL, in addition to mutations in the EPO receptor.
How is polycythemia vera treated in a child?
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also
depend on how severe the condition is.
Your child's healthcare provider will likely refer you to a hematologist, a specialist
in blood disorders. Treatment may include:
Venipuncture to remove some blood, which reduces the number of red blood cells (done
like when a person donates blood)
Low-dose of aspirin to prevent blood clots
Medicines to decrease the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow
Other treatments that are being studied
What are possible complications of polycythemia vera in a child?
Complications depend on how severe the polycythemia is. They can include:
How can I help my child live with polycythemia vera?
Your child will be watched for changes in blood test results or signs and symptoms
of complications. Your child should stay out of extreme heat, like hot baths. Heat
may make some symptoms like itching and burning worse. And he or she should stay away
from sports and activities that are likely to cause injuries. Injuries may increase
the risk of bleeding.
When should I call my child's healthcare provider?
Call your child's healthcare provider if you notice new or worse symptoms. For example,
call if your child is more tired than usual. Call your child's healthcare provider
or get medical care if your child:
Key points about polycythemia vera in children
Polycythemia vera is blood disorder in which the bone marrow produces too many red
blood cells. The extra cells make the blood too thick, increasing the risk of blood
Blood clots may cause serious problems depending on where they form. The clots can
decrease the blood supply to the heart, brain, or liver, for example.
Treatment may include venipuncture to remove blood and taking aspirin.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child.
Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose
for that visit.
Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important
if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.