Home » Polycythemia Vera and Thyroid Disorders Connection

Polycythemia Vera and Thyroid Disorders Connection

anatomy of the thyroid gland. digital illustration.

Polycythemia Vera is a slow type of blood cancer that originates in your bone marrow and produces too many RBCs (Red Blood Cells). These cells then thicken the blood and lead to a very slow flow. Complications such as blood clots arise, thereby leading to a stroke or heart attack.

Polycythemia Vera is very uncommon and develops slowly. It may take years for cancer to develop without knowing. On several occasions, the condition is found during a blood test for some other reasons.

Without the proper required treatment, Polycythemia Vera can be a life-threatening condition. Proper medical care on time ensures ease in symptoms, signs, and complications of this type of cancer. Although over time, there is a risk of it progressing to more serious kinds of blood cancer, such as leukemia or myelofibrosis, in some cases.

Causes of Polycythemia Vera

Polycythemia Vera arises when an alteration in the gene causes problems in the blood cell production. In normal cases, your body controls the quantity of RBCs, WBCs (White Blood Cells), and platelets;, the bone marrow keeps on producing RBCs a bit too many in the case of Polycythemia Vera.

The mutation that causes this cancer affects the protein switch called Janus kinase (JAK2) that is responsible for the growth of the cells. The cause of this mutation is unknown, but in most cases, it is inherited.

Symptoms of Polycythemia Vera

Polycythemia Vera can occur at any age but it is common in adults older than 60 years. Some common symptoms of this disorder include fatigue, headache, itching, sweating profusely, blurred vision, bleeding from gums, numbness of the feet and hands, shortness of breath, insomnia, burning feeling of the skin, concentration problems, ringing in ears, pain in the left ribs, and an early feeling of fullness while eating.

Thyroid disorders and its types

Thyroid disorders are medical conditions that affect the butterfly-shaped gland in front of your neck, the thyroid gland. It is an important organ that regulates several metabolic processes throughout the body. It uses iodine to produce important hormones, primarily the Thyroxine, also known as T4. There are many different kinds of Thyroid disorders like Hyperthyroidism, Hyperthyroidism, Thyroid Nodules, etc.

Hyperthyroidism is the condition that produces an excessive amount of the thyroid gland. Symptoms include increased metabolism, nervousness, tremor, fatigue, fast heart rate, increased bowel movements, intolerance to heat, etc.

Hypothyroidism is the opposite of the above. It is a condition that produces an insufficient amount of thyroid gland. Some symptoms are dry skin, fatigue, poor concentration, fluid retention, cold, depression, etc.

Thyroid Nodules are abnormal masses or lumps within the thyroid. It can be caused by benign tumors, benign cysts, or cancer of the thyroid. If these nodules are large, it can lead to compression of nearby structures.

Connection between Polycythemia Vera and Thyroid Disorders

Thyroid disorders are conditions that affect the thyroid gland located in front of your neck. According to a study, there was a lower prevalence of enlarged nodules and thyroid in patients with respect to the control group. The rate of thyroid nodules was the highest in multiple polycythemia vera and myeloma and the lowest in chronic lymphatic leukemia.

Another study suggests that thyroid hormones trigger erythropoiesis (the production of RBCs), sometimes resulting in erythrocytosis if there is no hemopoietic nutrients deficiency. Stimulation of erythropoiesis by thyroid hormones seem to mediate through erythropoietin (secreted by the kidney).

Those with polycythemia vera tend to have a red face and increased RBC count and platelets. They could also have a genetic mutation that causes the condition. Taking too much thyroid hormone medication can produce a similar condition called erythrocytosis. The hemoglobin raised RBC count and hematocrits are the outcomes of a dehydrated condition that is caused by hyperthyroidism; it also leads to the production of a moderately higher level of erythropoietin, the RBC stimulating hormone produced by the kidney. Everything speeds up under this medical condition like bowel movements, kidney processing rate, etc.

According to another research, thyroid dysfunction brings about unusual effects on blood cells, such as thrombocytopenia, erythrocytosis leukopenia, anemia, and, in rare cases, pancytopenia.

One more research study shows that there is a considerably higher risk of getting Polycythemia Vera when one has thyroid cancer, which means men have six times more risk and women have two times more risk. Additionally, due to this, the lag time increases between the diagnosis of thyroid cancer and the subsequent Polycythemia Vera, that is, 13 years on an average in agreement with cancers following radiotherapy.

Moreover, Polycythemia Vera is highly linked with leukemia, the risk of which increases subsequent to the radioiodine therapy for thyroid cancer. Thus, the reason behind getting Polycythemia Vera after thyroid cancer might be associated with the solid tumor radiotherapy treatment.

Final Thoughts

People suffering from Polycythemia Vera tend to have increased RBC and platelet count. When you are releasing too much of thyroid hormone, it produces a state similar to erythrocytosis or polycythemia. A higher level of erythropoietin, a hormone produced by the kidneys to stimulate RBC production, hemoglobin, and elevated RBC are all caused by hyperthyroidism.

Hence, if you are not taking any external thyroid doses, most likely there are no connections between hyperthyroidism (and any other thyroid disease) and Polycythemia Vera.


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