In essential thrombocythemia (ET), your body has too many platelets — fragments of cells that help your blood to clot.
At Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), our team of experts provides comprehensive diagnostic and medical care along with ongoing monitoring and support for people with ET and related blood disorders.
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What is essential thrombocythemia?
ET is a type of myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) — the name for a group of diseases in which a bone marrow problem leads to increased levels of blood cells circulating in the bloodstream.
In ET, your bone marrow has too many immature cells (precursors) that turn into platelets. Your levels of white blood cells and red blood cells (hemoglobin/hematocrit on a blood test) may also be high in ET. Excess platelets can lead to health issues, such as bleeding problems and blood clots. Clots increase your risk of stroke and heart attack.
Essential thrombocythemia is sometimes called primary thrombocythemia or idiopathic thrombocythemia.
Symptoms and diagnosis of essential thrombocythemia
Many people with ET have no symptoms when their disease is diagnosed. But a routine blood test may show high levels of platelets. Symptoms may develop as the number of platelets increases.
ET symptoms may include:
- Changes in vision
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Cold fingers or toes
- Burning, pain and redness in the hands and feet
- Easy bruising or bleeding
If ET leads to blood clots, it can cause stroke, transient ischemic attack, heart attack, deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism.
Besides detecting abnormal blood counts during routine testing, your doctor might suspect ET if you have noticeable signs or symptoms. To confirm the diagnosis, you may need additional blood tests — including tests to check for gene mutations, like JAK2 or CALR, that are common in ET — and tests of your bone marrow.
Read more about diagnosing MPNs.
Essential thrombocythemia treatment
If you don’t have any symptoms, you may not need any active treatment right now. But it’s important to see your doctor regularly to monitor your condition. This approach is called watchful waiting. ET is a chronic disease can get worse over time.
SCCA’s team of doctors provides a comprehensive range of treatment options for ET including:
- Aspirin — used at low doses to reduce clot risk
- Hydroxyurea — a mild chemotherapy drug used to reduce your chance of blood clots if you are at high risk
- Anagrelide (Agrylin) — a medicine that can reduce platelet counts if hydroxyurea is not right for you
- Interferon — another medicine that can reduce platelets
A blood or bone marrow transplant may be an option for people with severe or advanced MPNs, like ET. This is currently the only type of treatment that has the potential to cure MPNs. The Fred Hutch Bone Marrow Transplant Program at SCCA has performed more bone marrow transplants than any other institution in the world.
Read more about treatment for MPNs.
For more information about ET, visit the MPN Research Foundation website.