Indexed on: 05 Jan '05Published on: 05 Jan '05Published in: Archives of pathology & laboratory medicine
Polycythemia describes an increased proportion of red blood cells in the peripheral blood. In absolute polycythemia, there is increased red cell mass (RCM) with normal plasma volume, in contrast with apparent polycythemia, in which there is increased or normal RCM and decreased plasma volume. In order to deliver the appropriate treatment it is necessary to differentiate between the two.A retrospective analysis of RCM and plasma volume data are presented, with special attention to different methods of RCM interpretation.The measurements of RCM and plasma volume in 64 patients were compared with the venous and whole-body packed cell volume, and the incidence of absolute and apparent polycythemia was determined for increasing hematocrit levels. Measurements of RCM and plasma volume were performed using chromium 51-labeled red cells and iodine 125-labeled albumin, respectively. The measured RCM of each patient was expressed as a percentage of the mean expected RCM and was also defined as being within or outside the range of 2 SD of the mean. The results were also expressed in the traditional manner of mL/kg body weight.Twenty-one patients (13 women and 8 men) had absolute polycythemia. None of them had an increased plasma volume beyond 2 SD of the mean. When expressed according to the criteria of mL/kg body weight, 17 of the 21 patients had abnormally increased RCM, but 4 patients (19%) had a normal RCM value. Twenty-eight patients had apparent polycythemia. The remaining 15 patients had normal RCM and plasma volume.The measurement of RCM and plasma volume is a simple and necessary procedure in the evaluation of polycythemia. In obese patients, the expression of RCM in mL/kg body weight lacks precision, considering that adipose tissue is hypovascular. The results of RCM are best described as being within or beyond 2 SD of the mean value.