Obscure medical Q: Polycythemia

My Dad was diagnosed with a rare disease called Polycythemia. Basically, it meant his body produced far too many red blood cells and was too thick, resulting in heart attacks and stokes. Expert docs told Mom that it’s almost entirely a male disease, so none of his daughters are at risk. Incidentally, Dad had a massive heart attack at 39, a stroke at 53, and a fatal heart attack at 62. The docs said they suspected the same disease caused the relatively early deaths (50-ish) of his father and grandfather, too.

What I’d like to know is this: is my son (his grandson) at risk for this disease? All of the research I’ve found is either inconclusive or way over my head with medical terminology. Might I have passed on a gender-specific, recessive trait to my kid? And is there any way to find out before he reaches adulthood and has medical problems?

I am not a doctor and I have never played one on TV, Although it has always been my life long dream to be a doctor. The closest I every got was wearing a set of scrubs while watching my wife’s C-section, ok I am rambling now.

To answer the OP.

My Grandmther was diagnosed with Polycythemia in her early fifties or sixties I believe.

She saw the doctor once a month or so, took a pill everyday, and had some blood (quite a bit) drained out every now and then.

She died of natural causes at the ripe old age of 94.

No one else (knocks on wood) in the family has ever been diagnosed with this disease, so I would not worry about him getting it.

Polycythemia not necessarily a disease. There are several reasons to have a high redcell count. People who live at high altitudes have relative polycythemia. They need the extra red blood cells to carry enough oxygen
Polycythemia Vera is a disease that is seen in males more often. The cause is unclear.

The Merck Manual is a good source for this sort of thing.

In this case, it basically says the cause is unknown, but there is no strong evidence of heredity.

I was a medic in the service, and we had a master sergeant on flight status that was diagnosed with polycythemia vera. He was grounded for a long time, much to his displeasure, while they tried to figure out what to do with him. It was decided, as Juliotheman posted above, to bleed him every month. Actually, he just became a regular donor to our monthly blood drive. Flight surgeons are always very leery about returning ANYONE to flight status if there is even the slightest chance that something is amiss. He was monitored closely, and did fine for the rest of his career. Even though your body recoups the lost serum in about three days, it takes longer to get back your red cell level. Worked out well, and couldn’t have been simpler. A case of Occam’s Razor meets the Red Cross?

Polycythemia can run in families, but it is rare. One source that I consulted (which was hardly exhaustive) stated that the inheritance for one type was recessive which would imply that neither you nor your children would be affected (given that your father was). However, there is also a dominantly inherited form meaning that every generation can be affected to some extent.

The mechanism of the more ‘common’ forms of these condition are interesting: 1. the person’s hemoglobin tends to hold onto oxygen too tightly and thus doesn’t release it for use by the body’s tissues. To compensate, the body produces more hemoglobin (and red cells). or 2. the person’s red blood cells progenitor cells (i.e. red blood stem cells) are super sensitive to even low amounts of stimulation. In other words, “normal” people only make red cells when there’s anemia or low oxygen. In this genetic disorder, however, they are made essentially for no reason.

Please note that none of these familial forms is linked to the potentially cancerous polycythemia rubra vera.