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AIDS/HIV and red blood cell problems
May 5, 1998

One of my dearest friends is a man who, because of his sexual behavior, is at great risk for AIDS. He recently has been treated by a hematologist for a red blood cell problem--his counts are way too high. The treatment (in addition to many tests) has so far consisted mostly of "bleeding" him of quantities of blood each week in an attempt to make him anemic. So far, that has not worked. I respect his privacy and, since he is not ready to talk about what may be going on, I'm trying to find out if this problem may be linked to AIDS. Thank you for your consideration of my question.

Response from Mr. Molaghan


Although your friend may be at risk for AIDS, the problem you're describing is not an HIV related condition. The condition you are describing is known as polycythemia or erythrocytosis, which is characterized by enhanced stimulation of red blood cell production (the opposite of anemia). Polycythemia can be caused by many factors including low atmospheric pressure, pulmonary disease, vascular impairment of the kidneys, and endocrine disorders, just to mention a few. A Hematologist is the appropriate person for your friend to be seeing, so he is in good hands. Unfortunately, many tests are needed to determine the cause. Periodic phlebotomy ("bleeding") is one of the standards of treatment for people with polycythemia. Offer your support to him during this difficult time I'm sure he'll appreciate it.

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