Erythrocytosis: Diagnosis and investigation

Int J Lab Hematol. 2024 May:46 Suppl 1:55-62. doi: 10.1111/ijlh.14298. Epub 2024 May 2.


An absolute erythrocytosis is present when the red cell mass is greater than 125% of the predicted. This is suspected when the hemoglobin or hematocrit is above the normal range. An erythrocytosis can be classified as primary or secondary and congenital or acquired. The commonest primary acquired disorder is polycythemia vera. The diagnostic criteria for PV have evolved over time and this is the main diagnosis managed in hematology clinics. There are a variety of rare congenital causes both primary and secondary. In particular in young patients and/or those with a family history a congenital cause is suspected. There remains a larger cohort with acquired erythrocytosis mainly with non-hematological pathology. In order to explore for a cause of erythrocytosis, measurement of the erythropoietin level is a first step. A low erythropoietin level indicates a primary cause and a normal or elevated level indicates a secondary etiology. Further investigation is then dictated by initial findings and includes mutational testing with PCR and NGS for those in whom a congenital cause is suspected. Following this possibly bone marrow biopsy, scans, and further investigation as indicated by history and initial findings. Investigation is directed toward the identification of those with a hematological disorder which would be best managed following guidelines in hematology clinics and referral elsewhere in those for whom there are non-hematological reasons for the elevated hemoglobin.

Keywords: congenital; diagnostic pathway; erythrocytosis; hemoglobin; investigation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Erythropoietin / blood
  • Hemoglobins / analysis
  • Humans
  • Polycythemia Vera / blood
  • Polycythemia Vera / diagnosis
  • Polycythemia Vera / genetics
  • Polycythemia* / blood
  • Polycythemia* / congenital
  • Polycythemia* / diagnosis
  • Polycythemia* / genetics


  • EPO protein, human