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Ann Intern Med. 1981 Jan;94(1):44-7.

Erythropoietin radioimmunoassay in evaluating patients with polycythemia.


We measured serum concentrations of erythropoietin in 59 patients with polycythemia using a sensitive and specific radioimmunoassay. The mean concentration was 17.5 +/- 8.4 mU/mL (+/- SD) in 26 patients with polycythemia vera and 14.9 +/- 4.2 mU/mL in 26 normal persons. In contrast, the average concentration was 94.3 +/- 101.2 mU/mL in 33 patients with secondary polycythemia, representing a highly significant elevation (p < 0.0001) compared to both normal and polycythemia vera groups. The average hematocrit value did not differ between the polycythemia vera and the secondary polycythemia patients, and both groups had higher values (median, 55%) than the normal donors (median, 41%). Erythropoietin concentrations ascertained by radioimmunoassay helped discriminate between polycythemia vera and secondary polycythemia. Ninety-two percent of polycythemia vera patients had concentrations less than 30 mU/mL (the concentration used as a cut off point), and 94% of secondary polycythemia patients had concentrations greater than 30 mU/mL. This represents an overall correct classification of 93% of the patients. Serum erythropoietin levels as ascertained by radioimmunoassay can distinguish between most polycythemia vera and secondary polycythemia patients and should prove useful in the differential diagnosis of polycythemia.

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