Your doctor will take a detailed medical history and perform a physical exam.

Blood tests

If you have polycythemia vera, blood tests might reveal:

  • An increase in the number of red blood cells and, in some cases, an increase in platelets or white blood cells
  • Increased percentage of red blood cells that make up total blood volume (hematocrit measurement)
  • Elevated levels of the iron-rich protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen (hemoglobin).
  • Very low levels of a hormone that stimulates bone marrow to produce new red blood cells (erythropoietin)

Bone marrow aspiration or biopsy

If your doctor suspects you have polycythemia vera, he or she might recommend a bone marrow aspiration or biopsy to collect a sample of your bone marrow for study. A bone marrow biopsy involves taking a sample of solid bone marrow material.

A bone marrow aspiration is usually done at the same time. During an aspiration, your doctor withdraws a sample of the liquid portion of your marrow.

Tests for the gene mutation that causes polycythemia vera

If you have polycythemia vera, analysis of your bone marrow or blood also might show the JAK2 mutation in the cells that's associated with the disease.