Congenital polycythemias may result from inherited defects in hypoxia sensing, from inherited intrinsic defects in red blood cell precursors, or from inherited conditions that cause low tissue oxygen tension and secondary polycythemia. Conditions of defective hypoxia sensing feature inappropriately normal or elevated serum erythropoietin (Epo) concentrations in the setting of normoxia and erythrocytosis. They are often due to homozygous or compound heterozygous germline mutations in the von Hippel Lindau tumor suppressor gene (VHL) but without increased incidence of tumors. Affected persons have a high risk of arterial thrombosis and early mortality. The molecular biology of rare polycythemic patients with a single mutated VHL allele remains obscure. Primary congenital and familial polycythemias are characterized by low Epo levels and increased erythroid precursor responsiveness to Epo. They are often due to heterozygous gain-of function mutations in the gene for erythropoietin receptor (EPOR). Secondary congenital polycythemias have low tissue oxygen tension due to hemoglobins with high affinity for oxygen, low erythrocyte 2,3 biphosphoglycerate levels, methemoglobinemia or cyanotic heart or lung disease. Whether phlebotomy therapy reduces complications and prolongs survival in congenital polycythemia is not known.