J Clin Med Res
Journal of Clinical Medicine Research, ISSN 1918-3003 print, 1918-3011 online, Open Access
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Letter to the Editor

Volume 6, Number 5, October 2014, pages 395-397


Secondary Polycythemia and the Risk of Venous Thromboembolism

Vijaya Raj Bhatt

Division of Hematology-Oncology, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Nebraska Medical Center, 987680 Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE 68198-7680, USA

Manuscript accepted for publication July 08, 2014
Short title: Secondary Polycythemia
doi: https://doi.org/10.14740/jocmr1916w

To the Editor▴Top 

With an increasing incidence of obesity, sleep apnea and other chronic pulmonary diseases, the prevalence of secondary polycythemia is expected to rise in adults. Phlebotomy is commonly utilized in the management of secondary polycythemia. Although supported by a number of studies demonstrating a transient improvement in cardiovascular and cerebrovascular physiology, the benefit of phlebotomy is unclear with the possible exception in patients with hyperviscosity symptoms. The popularity of phlebotomy also reflects the overgeneralization of its survival advantage in polycythemia vera. Polycythemia vera, frequently accompanied by thrombocytosis, leukocytosis and enhanced adhesion of blood cells and endothelial cells, have an enhanced risk of thrombosis. Conversely, the risk of thrombosis associated with secondary polycythemia is uncertain.

Using search terms, “secondary erythrocytosis” or “secondary polycythemia” and “thrombosis” or “embolism”, I reviewed studies evaluating the risk of arterial or venous thrombosis in adult patients with secondary polycythemia. Following inclusion criteria were used: English-language studies, published and PubMed-indexed between 1990 and November 2013, adult patients, and polycythemia secondary to cardiac or pulmonary disease, smoking or idiopathic causes. Case reports were excluded. Five observational studies have determined the risk of thrombotic complications (Table 1). Three studies failed to demonstrate an elevated risk of arterial or venous thrombosis with secondary polycythemia [1-3]. A prospective study showed an increased risk of pulmonary embolism with polycythemia; however, the study included patients with respiratory distress and elevated D-dimer, did not match groups with and without polycythemia, and did not assess smoking history [4]. A retrospective case-control study from 1993 revealed a higher incidence of arterial and venous thrombosis in polycythemia vera (60%) compared to smoker’s polycythemia (41%). Such high incidence of thrombotic complications in secondary polycythemia group was the result of arterial events (92%), which is explained by the history of smoking and the possibility of undiagnosed underlying myeloproliferative disorder [5].

Table 1.
Click to view
Table 1. Secondary Polycythemia and the Risk of Venous Thromboembolism in Adults
 

In conclusion, there is no definite evidence that secondary polycythemia per se increases the risk of thromboembolism. Taken together with the transient nature of any beneficial effects, concerns for potential risks such as hypotension and iron deficiency, phlebotomy should not be routinely utilized in the management of secondary polycythemia until it is supported by well-designed studies in the future. Future studies should also assess the possibility of increased thrombotic complications in certain subsets of secondary polycythemia such as those with additional risk factors, e.g., obesity [1] or varicose vein [4], and the possibility of an elevated risk of unprovoked venous thromboembolism [1, 4].

Conflict of Interest

None.

Source of Funding

None.


References▴Top 
  1. Nadeem O, Gui J, Ornstein DL. Prevalence of venous thromboembolism in patients with secondary polycythemia. Clin Appl Thromb Hemost. 2013;19(4):363-366.
    doi pubmed
  2. Perloff JK, Marelli AJ, Miner PD. Risk of stroke in adults with cyanotic congenital heart disease. Circulation. 1993;87(6):1954-1959.
    doi pubmed
  3. Lubarsky DA, Gallagher CJ, Berend JL. Secondary polycythemia does not increase the risk of perioperative hemorrhagic or thrombotic complications. J Clin Anesth. 1991;3(2):99-103.
    doi
  4. Ristic L, Rancic M, Radovic M, Ciric Z, Kutlesic KD. Pulmonary embolism in chronic hypoxemic patients with and without secondary polycythemia-analysis of risk factors in prospective clinical study. Med Glas. 2013;10(2):258-265.
  5. Schwarcz TH, Hogan LA, Endean ED, Roitman IT, Kazmers A, Hyde GL. Thromboembolic complications of polycythemia: polycythemia vera versus smokers' polycythemia. J Vasc Surg. 1993;17(3):518-522, discussion 522-513.


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