What is polycythemia?
Polycythemia, or plethora, is a blood disorder occurring when there are too many red blood cells, the parts of the blood that carry oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body, circulating in the blood stream. This causes the blood to increase in volume and thicken, making it more difficult to flow through the body to the organs.
What causes polycythemia?
Polycythemia may be caused by:
An increase in a baby’s red cell production due to:
- chronically lowered oxygen levels
- some chromosomal abnormalities
Extra blood cells entering the baby's circulation due to:
- delay in clamping the umbilical cord after delivery
- twin-twin transfusion
Is polycythemia common?
Polycythemia is rare. Some babies may be at increased risk, including those born:
- at high altitudes (greater demand for blood to carry oxygen)
- after 42 weeks gestation
- small for gestational age or with intrauterine growth restriction (poor growth of the baby while in the womb)
- identical twins, who share a placenta and develop twin-twin transfusion symdrome
- to diabetic mothers
- with chromosomal abnormalities, including trisomies 13, 18 and 21 (Down syndrome)
What are the symptoms of polycythemia?
Many babies with polycythemia have no visible symptoms of the disorder. When symptoms do appear, the most common are:
- deep reddish-purple coloring
- poor feeding
- rapid breathing or distress
- low blood sugar