JAK2 unmutated erythrocytosis: 2023 Update on diagnosis and management

Am J Hematol. 2023 Jun;98(6):965-981. doi: 10.1002/ajh.26920. Epub 2023 Apr 3.


Disease overview: JAK2 unmutated or non-polycythemia vera (PV) erythrocytosis encompasses a heterogenous spectrum of hereditary and acquired entities.

Diagnosis: Foremost in the evaluation of erythrocytosis is the exclusion of PV through JAK2 (inclusive of exons 12-15) mutation screening. Initial assessment should also include gathering of previous records on hematocrit (Hct) and hemoglobin (Hgb) levels, in order to streamline the diagnostic process by first distinguishing longstanding from acquired erythrocytosis; subsequent subcategorization is facilitated by serum erythropoietin (Epo) measurement, germline mutation screening, and review of historical data, including comorbid conditions and medication list. Hereditary erythrocytosis constitutes the main culprit in the context of longstanding erythrocytosis, especially when associated with a positive family history. In this regard, a subnormal serum Epo level suggests EPO receptor mutation. Otherwise, considerations include those associated with decreased (high oxygen affinity Hgb variants, 2,3-bisphosphoglycerate deficiency, PIEZO1 mutations, methemoglobinemia) or normal oxygen tension at 50% Hgb saturation (P50). The latter include germline oxygen sensing pathway (HIF2A-PHD2-VHL) and other rare mutations. Acquired erythrocytosis commonly results from central (e.g., cardiopulmonary disease, high-altitude habitat) or peripheral (e.g., renal artery stenosis) hypoxia. Other noteworthy conditions associated with acquired erythrocytosis include Epo-producing tumors (e.g., renal cell carcinoma, cerebral hemangioblastoma) and drugs (e.g., testosterone, erythropoiesis stimulating agents, sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 inhibitors). Idiopathic erythrocytosis is an ill-defined terminology that presumes the existence of an increased Hgb/Hct level without an identifiable etiology. Such classification often lacks accounting for normal outliers and is marred by truncated diagnostic evaluation.

Management: Current consensus treatment guidelines are not supported by hard evidence and their value is further undermined by limited phenotypic characterization and unfounded concerns for thrombosis. We are of the opinion that cytoreductive therapy and indiscriminate use of phlebotomy should be avoided in the treatment of non-clonal erythrocytosis. However, it is reasonable to consider therapeutic phlebotomy if one were to demonstrate value in symptom control, with frequency determined by symptoms rather than Hct level. In addition, cardiovascular risk optimization and low dose aspirin is often advised.

Future directions: Advances in molecular hematology might result in better characterization of "idiopathic erythrocytosis" and expansion of the repertoire for germline mutations in hereditary erythrocytosis. Prospective controlled studies are needed to clarify potential pathology from JAK2 unmutated erythrocytosis, as well as to document the therapeutic value of phlebotomy.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Ion Channels
  • Janus Kinase 2 / genetics
  • Oxygen / therapeutic use
  • Polycythemia Vera* / diagnosis
  • Polycythemia Vera* / genetics
  • Polycythemia Vera* / therapy
  • Polycythemia* / etiology
  • Polycythemia* / genetics
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sodium-Glucose Transporter 2 Inhibitors / therapeutic use


  • Ion Channels
  • JAK2 protein, human
  • Janus Kinase 2
  • Oxygen
  • PIEZO1 protein, human
  • Sodium-Glucose Transporter 2 Inhibitors

Supplementary concepts

  • Polycythemia, primary familial and congenital