The mechanism of polycythemia associated with the Budd-Chiari syndrome is unknown. Erythropoiesis in 10 patients with Budd-Chiari syndrome was studied in an attempt to distinguish prior unrecognized polycythemia vera from secondary polycythemia.
Serum erythropoietin was assayed using a mouse fetal liver erythroblast assay. High concentrations of serum erythropoietin were observed in 6 of 7 patients with acute primary Budd-Chiari syndrome. Levels were normal in four patients who were investigated during the chronic phase and were increased in one with persisting polycythemia. In one patient, erythropoietin concentration in the hepatic vein was twice the level measured in peripheral, caval and renal venous blood.
Bone marrow erythroid progenitors developed in vitro in the absence of exogenous erythropoietin in all polycythemia vera cases studied in acute and chronic phases, whether polycythemia persisted or not.
These findings indicate that hepatic erythropoietin production occurs in the acute phase of Budd-Chiari syndrome and suggest that, in some cases of Budd Chiari syndrome, polycythemia which resolves after the acute phase may be secondary to liver disease.