Why Do I Have Too Many Red Blood Cells?

Polycythaemia is the medical name for the excess of red blood cells (red blood cells) in our circulatory system. Red blood cells, or erythrocytes, are the most common type of blood cell, and our organism’s principal mean of delivering oxygen to body tissues. There is no established threshold for high red blood cell count, however, as it greatly differs from one place to another. Despite this, 5.72 million red blood cells per microliter for men, or 5.03 for womenis generally regarded as a high red blood cell density.

How Can I Know If I Have Too Many Red Blood Cells?

Polycythaemia or the excess of red blood cells comes with a series of symptoms that will warn you about it. Note symptoms will probably not become patent in mild cases. Common symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Persistent itching
  • Blurry vision and dizziness
  • Tinnitus

High blood pressure is probably the main symptom, although obviously not one you can feel directly.

As you can see, Polycythaemia’s symptoms are quite unpleasant. However, most would probably not consider them to be dangerous.We will now discuss potential aggravations and bigger problems arising from having too many red blood cells, showing it might actually be more serious than that.

What Are the Possible Complications If I Have too Many Blood Cells?

Polycythaemia has got linked with liver and kidney cancer in some cases. That’s a proof of how serious it can get. High red blood cells density in your blood increases blood pressure and this can be associated with deep vein thrombosis (DVT) too, but also with strokes, heart attacks and embolism, all of which may lead to death. Blood cancer or leukemia is considered another potential outcome of polycythaemia, maybe the worst one. Internal hemorrhages and excessive bleeding has also been linked to it.

Why Do I Have Too Many Red Blood Cells?

After multiple studies and research, we have come to know what causes excessive quantities of red blood cells to originate, and so we can also treat it. Yet there is not a single cause of polycythaemia, and each cause is based on the type of polycythaemia you suffer from. Below, we have discussed causes of too many red blood cells according to the different types.

1. Causes of Primary Polycythaemia

Primary polycythaemia is a kind of excess in red blood cells caused by an excessive productiondue to inherent or acquired problems. It’s further on divided into 2 subcategories as:

  • Polycythemia vera (PV): This is caused by a genetic mutation which is believed to increase the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow. Levels of other types of blood cells are also increased by this condition.
  • Primary familial and congenital polycythaemia (PFCP): This condition is also caused by a genetic mutation. The difference is PV is caused by the mutation of the so called JAK2 gene, while PFCP is caused by the mutation of the EPOR (erythropoietin receptor) gene.

2. Causes of Secondary Polycythaemia

The difference with secondary polycythaemia, on the other hand, is that this one occurs as a response to other underlying condition(s) that cause an excess in the production of red blood cells.

Secondary polycythaemia is generally due to high levels of erythropoietin, the hormone that regulates the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow. Rising in erythropoietin levels is a response to either of the following conditions:

Chronic Hypoxia


Hypoxemia or hypoxia is an abnormally low level of oxygen in the blood. It can take place for several reasons. The most common ones are:

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Pulmonary hypertension

Heart diseases

Sleep apnea

Note: certain people are more likely to have lower or higher levels of oxygen in the bloodstream. Sportsmen, for instance, present levels way above the average, while people living in high altitudes present the opposite.

There are tumors that affect our organism in such a way our levels of erythropoietin rise, which then increases the production of red blood cells. The most common of these tumors are:

Liver cancer

Kidney cancer

Uterine tumors

Adrenal adenoma

Note: Benign tumors or cysts can sometimes cause EPO levels to rise too, but it’s not always and definitely cancer, something many are thankful for.

What to Do If I Have Too Many Red Blood Cells

Fortunately, numerous scientists have developed a number of effective methods in order to cope and even counter arrest the negative effects of having too many red blood cells. Here are some treatments for too many red blood cells:

1. Medical Treatment

There are several different treatments you can indulge in, depending on the cause and type of polycythaemia you suffer from. One of them is as simple as sporadically removing blood (phlebotomy).

Besides, here are two main medications you can use when having too many red blood cells:

  • Hydrea. This is particularly advisable for people with a risk of clot formation. Hydroxyurea or hydrea is a synthetic drug containing hydroxycarbamide and used for medical purposes. It basically reduces the number of red blood cells in your bloodstream.
  • Aspirin. Aspirins have also proven to be an effective treatment against polycythaemia. It’s particularly effective preventing the blossom of thrombosis. It’s usually prescribed along with phlebotomy.

2. Home Care

People with primary polycythemia can engage in a series of simple domestic treatments that will allow them to keep the symptoms within certain acceptable boundaries. Most of these treatments do not require any sort of prior knowledge or treating skills. Here are some simple ones you can try:

  • Staying hydrated. If the levelof water in your organism is lower than it should, your blood will be more concentrated and so the red blood cells’density will be higher than normal, too.
  • Avoid contact sports. If you have an enlarged spleen, it’s better for you to avoid injury and rupture risks.
  • Avoid iron. Try not to consume iron-rich foods as iron stimulates the production of red blood cells.