Diagnosis and management of congenital and idiopathic erythrocytosis

Ther Adv Hematol. 2012 Dec;3(6):391-8. doi: 10.1177/2040620712458947.


An erythrocytosis occurs when there is an increased red-cell mass. The causes of erythrocytosis are divided into primary, when there is an intrinsic defect in the erythroid cell, and secondary, when the cause is extrinsic to the erythroid cell. An idiopathic erythrocytosis occurs when the increased red-cell mass has no identifiable cause. Primary and secondary defects can be further classified as either congenital or acquired causes. The diagnostic pathway starts with a careful history and examination followed by measurement of the erythropoietin (EPO) levels. This allows a division of those patients with a low EPO level, who can then be investigated for primary causes of erythrocytosis, and those with a normal or high EPO level, where the oxygen-sensing pathway needs to be explored further. Physiological studies in those with congenital defects in the oxygen-sensing pathway show many changes in the downstream metabolism adapting to the defect, which has a bearing on the management of the disorders. Low-dose aspirin and venesection to an achievable target are the main therapeutic options that can be considered in the management of erythrocytosis. Specific guidance on venesection options should be considered with certain causes such as high oxygen-affinity hemoglobins.

Keywords: erythrocytosis; erythropoietin; erythropoietin receptor; oxygen-sensing pathway.