Polycythemia vera is a disease of the bone marrow and leads to an increased number of red blood cells. Vitamin B-12, also known as cobalamin, is needed for red blood cell production. Correcting a vitamin B-12 deficiency can unmask the symptoms of polycythemia vera.
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Polycythemia vera is more common in men than women and usually occurs after age 40. It's a genetic disease of the bone marrow that causes your body to make too many red blood cells and also increases production of white blood cells and platelets. Symptoms include dizziness, excessive bleeding, pain or fullness in the upper abdomen on the left side caused by an enlarged spleen, itchiness, problems breathing, headache and red coloring of the face.
Vitamin B-12 is one of the B-complex vitamins. It's found in foods of animal origin such as meat, poultry, eggs, milk, cheese, fish and seafood. Vitamin B-12 is needed for red blood cell production and normal nerve and muscle function. Deficiency can occur when you eat plant foods exclusively or if you don't make enough stomach acid or a protein called intrinsic factor, which is needed to absorb vitamin B-12.
Vitamin B-12 Deficiency
Vitamin B-12 deficiency causes megaloblastic anemia, which is a disease characterized by red blood cells that are larger than normal. Anemia is a condition when your body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells provide oxygen to body tissues. Vitamin B-12 deficiencies are corrected with B-12 supplements or injections. If you have polycythemia vera and a vitamin B-12 deficiency, correcting the deficiency will result in overproduction of the red blood cells. Speak to your doctor before taking vitamin B-12 supplements.
Treating Polycythemia Vera
Treatment is designed to reduce the thickness of the blood and to prevent blood clots and excessive bleeding. Patients undergo weekly phlebotomy sessions, which is having blood removed by blood draw, until the number of red blood cells is reduced. Aspirin may be given to reduce the risk of blood clots. Occasionally, chemotherapy is used to inhibit the bone marrow from making the extra red blood cells.