Posttransplant erythrocytosis

Kidney Int. 2003 Apr;63(4):1187-94. doi: 10.1046/j.1523-1755.2003.00850.x.


Posttransplant erythrocytosis (PTE) is defined as a persistently elevated hematocrit to a level greater than 51% after renal transplantation. It occurs in 10% to 15% of graft recipients and usually develops 8 to 24 months after engraftment. Spontaneous remission of established PTE is observed in one fourth of the patients within 2 years from onset, whereas in the remaining three fourths it persists for several years, only to remit after loss of renal function from rejection. Predisposing factors include male gender, retention of native kidneys, smoking, transplant renal artery stenosis, adequate erythropoiesis prior to transplantation, and rejection-free course with well-functioning renal graft. Just as in other forms of erythrocytosis, a substantial number (approximately 60%) of patients with PTE experience malaise, headache, plethora, lethargy, and dizziness. Thromboembolic events occur in 10% to 30% of the cases; 1% to 2% eventually die of associated complications. Posttransplant erythrocytosis results from the combined trophic effect of multiple and interrelated erythropoietic factors. Among them, endogenous erythropoietin appears to play the central role. Persistent erythropoietin secretion from the diseased and chronically ischemic native kidneys does not conform to the normal feedback regulation, thereby establishing a form of "tertiary hypererythropoietinemia." However, erythropoietin levels in most PTE patients still remain within the "normal range," indicating that erythrocytosis finally ensues by the contributory action of additional growth factors on erythroid progenitors, such as angiotensin II, androgens, and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). Inactivation of the renin-angiotensin system (RAS) by an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor, or an angiotensin II type 1 AT1 receptor blocker represents the most effective, safe, and well-tolerated therapeutic modality.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Kidney Transplantation / adverse effects*
  • Polycythemia / etiology*
  • Polycythemia / physiopathology*
  • Polycythemia / therapy
  • Postoperative Complications