Polycythemia is a disease state in which the proportion of blood volume that is occupied by red blood cells increases. Blood volume proportions can be measured as hematocrit
The hematocrit or packed cell volume or erythrocyte volume fraction is the percentage of the concentration of red blood cells in blood. It is normally about 45% for men and 40% for women...


It can be due to an increase in the mass of red blood cell
Red blood cell
Red blood cells are the most common type of blood cell and the vertebrate organism's principal means of delivering oxygen to the body tissues via the blood flow through the circulatory system...

s ("absolute polycythemia") or to a decrease in the volume of plasma ("relative polycythemia").
The overproduction of red blood cells may be due to a primary process in the bone marrow
Bone marrow
Bone marrow is the flexible tissue found in the interior of bones. In humans, bone marrow in large bones produces new blood cells. On average, bone marrow constitutes 4% of the total body mass of humans; in adults weighing 65 kg , bone marrow accounts for approximately 2.6 kg...

 (a so-called myeloproliferative syndrome), or it may be a reaction to chronically low oxygen levels
Hypoxia (medical)
Hypoxia, or hypoxiation, is a pathological condition in which the body as a whole or a region of the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply. Variations in arterial oxygen concentrations can be part of the normal physiology, for example, during strenuous physical exercise...

 or, rarely, a malignancy
Primary polycythemias are due to factors intrinsic to red cell precursors.