Natural history of idiopathic erythrocytosis - A retrospective case series review

Andrew Hodson, Claire Harrison, Frank Jones, Melanie Percy, Mary Frances McMullin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Idiopathic Erythrocytosis (IE) is a diagnosis given to patients who have an absolute erythrocytosis (red cell mass more than 25% above their mean normal predicted value) but who do not have a known form of primary or secondary erythrocytosis (BCSH guideline, 2005). We report here the results of a follow-up study of 80 patients (44 male and 36 female) diagnosed with IE from the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland over a 10 year period. Baseline information was initially collected when investigating for molecular causes of erythrocytosis in this group. The diagnosis of IE was made on the basis of a raised red cell mass >25% above mean normal predicted value, absence of Polycythaemia Vera (PV) based on the criteria of Pearson and Messinezy (1996), and the exclusion of secondary erythrocytosis (oxygen saturation >92% on pulse oximetry, no history of sleep apnoea, no renal or hepatic pathology, and a normal oxygen dissociation curve (if indicated). The average age at diagnosis of erythrocytosis was 34.5 (2–74 years). Erythropoietin levels were available for 77/80 of the patients and were low in 18 (23%) and normal or high in 59 (74%). Ultrasound imaging was carried out in 67 patients (84%) at time of diagnosis and no significant abnormalities found. Fourteen patients had a family history of erythrocytosis. These patients have now been followed up for an average of 9.4 years (range 1–39). Out of 80 patients 56 patients can still be classified as having IE, of whom 52 are living (cause of death in the other 4 - lung cancer, RTA, sepsis, unknown). Thirty-five of these patients are regularly venesected, 3 take hydroxyurea (one also venesected), 11 receive no treatment while treatment is unknown in 2. Twenty take aspirin, 1 warfarin and 31 no thromboprophylaxis. Four of these patients had suffered thromboembolic complications (3 with CVA/TIAs and 1 with recurrent DVT) at or before their original diagnosis. Since diagnosis 8 patients have had 9 thrombotic events of which 7 were arterial (1 CVA, 3 TIAs, 1 MI, 2 PVD) and 2 venous (DVT/PE). Twenty take aspirin, 1 dipyridamole, 1 warfarin and 30 take no thromboprophylaxis. Out of the 24 patients who now have a diagnosis other than IE, 8 have been diagnosed with myelo-proliferative disease. Thirteen patients have a molecular abnormality which is likely to account for their erythrocytosis (11 VHL, 1 PHD-2, 1 EPO-receptor mutations). Three patients have secondary erythrocytosis. Older case studies identified a heterogenous group of patients, some of whom probably had apparent erythrocytosis and some who had either primary polycythaemia or secondary causes later identified (Modan and Modan, Najean et al). More recent reviews have identified a more homogenous group with low rates of transformation to myelofibrosis/acute leukaemia and low rates of thrombosis of around 1% patient-year. Follow up of our initial patient group does indeed reveal a heterogeneous group of patients with 10% now diagnosed with an MPD, although when analysis is confined to those patients who continue to fulfil the criteria for IE, the clinical course has been more stable. There has been no progression to MDS or leukaemia in this group (one patient with PV progressed to AML). The rate of thrombosis is 1.6% patient-years which is lower than the rate seen in PV and is consistent with the rate identified in other series. Molecular defects continue to be identified in this group and future investigation is likely to reveal further abnormalities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)380A-380A
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2006


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