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Erythrocytosis following renal transplantation

Daniel C Brennan, MD, FACP
Demetrios V Vlahakos, MD
Section Editor
Barbara Murphy, MB, BAO, BCh, FRCPI
Deputy Editor
Albert Q Lam, MD


Posttransplant erythrocytosis (PTE) occurs in 8 to 15 percent of renal transplant recipients and usually affects patients with well-preserved graft function [1-4]. The pathogenesis and treatment of this disorder is reviewed here. An overview of the general approach to the patient with polycythemia is presented separately. (See "Diagnostic approach to the patient with polycythemia".)


Posttransplant erythrocytosis (PTE) is defined as persistently elevated hemoglobin and hematocrit levels that occur following renal transplantation and persist for more than six months in the absence of thrombocytosis, leukocytosis, or another potential cause of erythrocytosis [1-5].

The threshold hematocrit used to define PTE is variable and ranges between 51 to 54 percent; most clinicians use 51 percent (corresponding to a hemoglobin concentration of approximately 17 g/dL) [2,6-14].

PTE occurs in 8 to 15 percent of renal transplant recipients; a few studies have reported incidences as high as 22 percent [1-5,15]. The disparity in reported prevalence is due in part to the variably defined hematocrit thresholds used and the inclusion of transitory erythrocytosis (ie, persisting for less than six months) [2]. Differences in immunosuppressive regimens may also contribute to disparities between centers in the reported prevalence of PTE since individual agents have variable effects on hemoglobin.

The incidence of PTE appears to be decreasing. Erythrocytosis defined as hemoglobin >17 g/dL was reported in 19 percent of those transplanted between 1993 to 1996, but only 8 percent of those transplanted between 1997 to 2005 [4].

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Jan 27, 2016.
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