Medical Council of Canada

Medical expert

Elevated Hemoglobin - 42-2


Elevated hemoglobin levels may be a manifestation of polycythemia vera or secondary erythrocytosis. Elevated hemoglobin levels may be due to many treatable causes. Unrecognized polycythemia may cause end-organ damage.

Causal Conditions

(list not exhaustive)
  1. Red cell mass increased
    1. Polycythemia vera - low or normal erythropoetin (EPO)
    2. Secondary erythrocytosis - elevated EPO
      1. Appropriate EPO elevation (e.g., hypoxemia)
      2. Inappropriate EPO elevation (e.g., EPO secreting tumor)
    3. Relative polycythemia (decreased plasma volume)

Key Objectives

Given a patient with elevated hemoglobin levels, the candidate will diagnose the cause, severity, and complications, and will initiate an appropriate management plan

Enabling Objectives

Given a patient with elevated hemoglobin level, the candidate will

  1. list and interpret critical clinical findings, including
    1. differentiating between primary and secondary erythrocytosis;
    2. assessing the presence of complications;
  2. list and interpret critical investigations, including
    1. appropriate laboratory and diagnostic imaging;
  3. construct an effective initial management plan, including
    1. referring the patient for specialized care, if necessary;
    2. counselling and education (e.g., smoking cessation, work environment).
Next: Hirsutism, Hypertrichosis