Polycythemia | Symptoms & Causes

What are the symptoms of polycythemia?

Infants and children with polycythemia often have no visible symptoms. When they do appear, the most common symptoms include:

  • deep reddish-purple coloring
  • poor feeding
  • tiredness or fatigue
  • shortness of breath or breathing difficulty 
  • low blood sugar
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • itchiness, especially following a warm bath or shower
  • numbness, tingling, burning or weakness in your hands, feet, arms or legs

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

Or it can be the result of extra blood cells entering the baby's circulation due to:

  • delay in clamping the umbilical cord after delivery
  • twin-twin transfusion

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)