Diseases & Conditions


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Polycythemia


Polycythemia is an abnormally high concentration of red blood cells.

A markedly increased concentration of red blood cells may result in the blood being too thick, which slows the flow of blood through small blood vessels and interferes with the delivery of oxygen to tissues. A newborn who is born postmaturely or whose mother has severe high blood pressure, smokes, or lives at a high altitude is more likely to have polycythemia. Polycythemia may also result if the newborn receives too much blood from the placenta at birth, as may occur if the newborn is held below the level of the placenta for a period of time before the umbilical cord is clamped.

The newborn with polycythemia may have a ruddy or dusky color. Most such newborns do not have other symptoms. However, the newborn may be sluggish, feed poorly, have rapid heart and respiratory rates, and, rarely, may have seizures. If the newborn has such symptoms and a blood test indicates too many red blood cells (high hematocrit), a partial exchange blood transfusion is performed, in which the newborn's blood is removed and replaced with equal volumes of albumin solution or saline, thus diluting the remaining red blood cells and correcting the polycythemia.

Last full review/revision February 2003

Source: The Merck Manual Home Edition