Blood May Be Thicker Than Water, But Thick Blood Can Lead to Disability
Red blood cells carry oxygen around the body to allow cells to function. Bone marrow produces red blood cells. If a person has polycythemia vera, the “bone marrow makes too many red blood cells.” This may not sound like a big deal, but too many red blood cells thicken the blood and makes it difficult for the heart to force it through small capillaries.
“In its early states, polycythemia vera usually doesn't cause any signs of symptoms.” As it progresses, an individual can suffer from “headaches, dizziness, itchiness after a warm bath or shower, skin redness, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing when prone, numbness, tingling, burning, or weakness in hands, feet, arms or legs, and/or fatigue.” If an individual suffers from these symptoms or sudden onset of these symptoms, see a doctor quickly as increased blood cell counts can cause blood clots, which can lead to stroke.
Polycythemia vera is the result of a mutation in bone marrow cells that then increases red blood cell production. “In polycythemia vera, the mechanism the body uses to control the production of blood cells becomes impaired and the bone marrow makes too many of some blood cells.” Researchers believe that the mutation occurs within the individual and is not inherited.
The first test a doctor will perform is a standard blood test. The blood test will show an increase in the number of red blood cells, as well as a possible increase in white blood cells and platelets. It may also show an elevated hematocrit, elevated hemoglobin, and low levels of a hormone that stimulates bone marrow to produce new blood cells.
In order to make sure of the diagnosis, a doctor will perform a bone marrow aspiration or biopsy to study the marrow itself to determine if it is producing too many blood cells. The doctor can also examine the marrow and blood to determine if the individual has the cell mutation linked to polycythemia vera.
Polycythemia is a chronic condition without a cure. With treatment, the disease can be managed and complications prevented. The first line of treatment is to draw blood to lower the number of blood cells and decrease blood volume. How often an individual must have blood drawn is dependent upon the severity of the disease.
There are also medications that are used “to suppress the bone marrow's ability to produce blood cells.” In order to reduce the risk of stroke, a doctor may recommend a daily low-dose aspirin regimen. A doctor may also prescribe antihistamines to assist with itching.
Social Security Disability
When the Social Security Administration reviews polycythemia vera for a Social Security Disability application, the first thing they look at is whether the condition has persisted for more than 3 months. To confirm the diagnosis of polycythemia vera, the SSA also reviews medical records for erythrocytosis (an increase in red blood cells and can be hereditary), splenomegaly (an enlarged spleen), leukocytosis (an increase in white blood cells), and/or thrombocytosis (an increase in platelets). Once the diagnosis of polycythemia vera is confirmed, then the SSA looks at the individual's current work activity, the severity of the impairment, and the individual's current functional capacity.
SSD applications require extensive documentation on an applicant's medical condition. If you are considering applying for disability benefits, contact our experienced attorney to assist you.