Hyperviscosity in polycythemia vera and other red cell abnormalities

Semin Thromb Hemost. 2003 Oct;29(5):451-8. doi: 10.1055/s-2003-44552.


Thrombosis is a major cause of mortality and morbidity in polycythemia vera (PV). The wide range of thrombotic events reflects the complex picture in PV. There are multiple factors involved in thrombogenesis in this disease, including increased hematocrit, thrombocytosis, impaired fibrinolytic activity, platelet activation, leukocyte activation, endothelial damage, interactions between platelets and endothelium, various modalities of therapy, and increased in whole-blood viscosity. Among them, the increase in blood viscosity, and hence the impairment of blood flow, is the major factor. In this article, the role of hyperviscosity in PV is reviewed. A high hematocrit occurs under PV and many other conditions with abnormal red blood cell aggregation. The impaired capillary blood flow results in neurological manifestations and increased bleeding risk in PV. Thrombotic complications can also occur in both arteries and veins and manifest as stroke, myocardial infarction, deep vein thrombosis, or pulmonary embolism. The hemodynamic principle is aptly applied in the management of PV. The most important objective is the reduction of the patient's hematocrit.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Blood Viscosity / physiology*
  • Erythrocyte Aggregation
  • Erythrocytes, Abnormal / pathology
  • Hematocrit
  • Humans
  • Polycythemia Vera / blood*
  • Polycythemia Vera / therapy