The life expectancy for patients with untreated polycythemia was one to two years, but as of 2015 it is 10 to 15 years when treated solely with phlebotomy, says MedicineNet. Taking medications such as aspirin or hydroxyurea can further improve a patient's outlook. An individual's prognosis depends on the underlying causes of the condition. Polycythemia is typically incurable, but it can be treated and controlled.
Polycythemia is a blood disease that was first identified in 1892, notes WebMD. In 2008, the World Health Organization reclassified polycythemia and related conditions as blood cancers, or neoplasms. A genetic mutation in 95 percent of people with this condition was discovered in 2005, and led to the establishment of a range of ongoing projects seeking treatments for polycythemia, according to MPN Research Foundation.
Polycythemia causes elevated levels of red blood cells, explains MedicineNet. Primary polycythemia is caused by problems that originate in the production of red blood cells, and secondary polycythemia is the result of other factors or conditions that promote red blood cell production. Treatment depends on the cause, but phlebotomy, the process of drawing blood, is the most common therapy for polycythemia. The use of medications that suppress the production of red blood cells is limited and controversial. Possible complications include heart attacks and strokes, clotting and hemorrhaging, kidney problems, and anemia.