Excessive erythrocytosis (EE) is a prevalent condition in populations living at high altitudes (> 2,500 m above sea level). Few large population-based studies have explored the association between EE and multiple subject-specific traits including oxygen saturation, iron status indicators, and pulmonary function.
We enrolled a sex-stratified and age-stratified sample of 1,065 high-altitude residents aged ≥ 35 years from Puno, Peru (3,825 m above sea level) and conducted a standardized questionnaire and physical examination that included spirometry, pulse oximetry, and a blood sample for multiple clinical markers. Our primary objectives were to estimate the prevalence of EE, characterize the clinical profile and iron status indicators of subjects with EE, and describe subject-specific traits associated with EE.
Overall prevalence of EE was 4.5% (95% CI, 3.3%-6.0%). Oxygen saturation was significantly lower among EE than non-EE group subjects (85.3% vs 90.1%, P < .001) but no difference was found in iron status indicators between both groups (P > .09 for all values). In multivariable logistic regression, we found that age ≥ 65 years (OR = 2.45, 95% CI, 1.16-5.09), male sex (3.86, 1.78-9.08), having metabolic syndrome (2.66, 1.27-5.75) or being overweight (5.20, 1.95-16.77), pulse oximetry < 85% (14.90, 6.43-34.90), and % predicted FVC < 80% (13.62, 4.40-41.80) were strongly associated with EE. Attributable fractions for EE were greatest for being overweight (26.7%), followed by male sex (21.5%), pulse oximetry < 85% (16.4%), having metabolic syndrome (14.4%), and % predicted FVC < 80% (9.3%).
We found a lower prevalence of EE than in previous reports in the Peruvian Andes. Although the presence of hypoxemia and decreased vital capacity were strongly associated with excessive erythrocytosis, being overweight or having metabolic syndrome were associated with an important fraction of cases in our study population.