Polycythemia vera (PV) is a kind of blood cancer that can happen at any age but is most common in people who are over the age of 60. It happens when the body makes too many red blood cells, which makes blood thicker and causes it to flow more slowly. If you’re caring for an older adult with PV, knowing more about it can help you to be a more effective caregiver.
PV is a slow-growing type of blood cancer that often causes no symptoms. In fact, it is commonly found when a person has a blood test for something else. Though it grows slowly, PV is a life-threatening disease that can cause serious complications, such as:
- Blood clots.
- Enlarged spleen.
- Blood disorders.
- Blood clots, which can lead to stroke or heart attack.
Over time, PV can turn into a more serious kind of blood cancer, such as acute leukemia or myelofibrosis.
PV is caused by a gene mutation that affects the production of blood cells. Ordinarily, the body regulates how many of each kind of blood cell is produced but with PV, the body produces excess red blood cells.
Symptoms of PV
Older adults with PV may experience the following symptoms because of the disease:
- Feeling itchy, especially after taking a warm bath or shower.
- Blurry vision.
- Pain and swelling in a single joint, usually the big toe.
- Feeling short of breath.
- A feeling of numbness or tingling in the arms, hands, legs, or feet.
- Bloating or a full feeling in the upper left abdomen, caused by an enlarged spleen.
- Weight loss.
Treating PV is usually a matter of managing any symptoms it causes and monitoring the disease for progression. Doctors may prescribe medications to reduce red blood cell count, low-dose aspirin, or phlebotomy. Phlebotomy involves removing some blood from the body, similar to donating blood.
There is no cure for PV, but it is possible to manage the condition for years. Homecare can assist with management of PV in several ways. A homecare provider can remind the older adult when it is time to take PV medications. They can also drive the older adult to appointments for phlebotomy or follow-up on the disease. Homecare providers can also help the older adult to get some exercise, which helps to improve circulation. Homecare providers can go for walks with the senior and assist them to do leg and ankle exercises to prevent blood clots.