Treating polycythaemia

Treatment forpolycythaemia aims to prevent symptoms and complications (such as blood clots), and treat any underlying causes.

Some of the main treatments used are described below.


Venesection is the simplest and quickest way of reducing the number of red cells in your blood. It may be recommended if you have PV, a history of blood clots, or symptoms suggesting your blood is too thick (see above).

Venesectioninvolves removing aboutone pint (half a litre) of blood at a time, in a similar way to the procedure used for blood donation .

How often this isneeded will be different for each person. At first, you may need the treatment every week, but once your condition is under control you may only need it every 6-12 weeks or less.

For more information, read an NHS leaflet on having a venesection (PDF, 335kb) .

Medicationtoreduce the production of red blood cells

In cases of PV, medicationmaybe prescribed to slow down the production of red blood cells.

Many differentmedications are available and your specialist will take into account your age and health, response to venesection and red blood cell count when choosing the most appropriateone for you. Examples include:

  • hydroxycarbamide generally tolerated well, but shouldn't be taken by pregnant women or women trying to conceive
  • interferon can be taken in pregnancy, but may cause unpleasant side effects, such as hair loss and flu -like symptoms

Medication to preventblood clots

If you have PV, daily low-dose aspirin tablets may be prescribed to help preventblood clots and reduce the risk of serious complications.

You may also be offered treatment with low-dose aspirin if you have apparent or secondary polycythaemia and another condition affecting your blood vessels, such as coronary heart disease or cerebrovascular disease .

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 21 Dec 2018