J Clin Med Res
Journal of Clinical Medicine Research, ISSN 1918-3003 print, 1918-3011 online, Open Access
Article copyright, the authors; Journal compilation copyright, J Clin Med Res and Elmer Press Inc
Journal website http://www.jocmr.org

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


Source of Funding


  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.
  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.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Journal of Clinical Medicine Research is published by Elmer Press Inc.


Browse  Journals  


Journal of Clinical Medicine Research

Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism

Journal of Clinical Gynecology and Obstetrics


World Journal of Oncology

Gastroenterology Research

Journal of Hematology


Journal of Medical Cases

Journal of Current Surgery

Clinical Infection and Immunity


Cardiology Research

World Journal of Nephrology and Urology

Cellular and Molecular Medicine Research


Journal of Neurology Research

International Journal of Clinical Pediatrics



Journal of Clinical Medicine Research, monthly, ISSN 1918-3003 (print), 1918-3011 (online), published by Elmer Press Inc.                     
The content of this site is intended for health care professionals.
This is an open-access journal distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, which permits unrestricted
non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Creative Commons Attribution license (Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International CC-BY-NC 4.0)

This journal follows the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) recommendations for manuscripts submitted to biomedical journals,
the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) guidelines, and the Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing.

website: www.jocmr.org   editorial contact: editor@jocmr.org
Address: 9225 Leslie Street, Suite 201, Richmond Hill, Ontario, L4B 3H6, Canada

© Elmer Press Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the published articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the editors and Elmer Press Inc. This website is provided for medical research and informational purposes only and does not constitute any medical advice or professional services. The information provided in this journal should not be used for diagnosis and treatment, those seeking medical advice should always consult with a licensed physician.