Treating anemia of chronic kidney disease in the primary care setting: cardiovascular outcomes and management recommendations
Osteopathic Medicine and Primary Care
Treating anemia of chronic kidney disease in the primary care setting: cardiovascular outcomes and management recommendations Rebecca J Schmidt* and Cheryl L Dalton
0 Address: Section of Nephrology, Department of Medicine, West Virginia University Health Sciences Center , PO Box 9165, Morgantown, WV 26506 , USA
Anemia is an underrecognized but characteristic feature of chronic kidney disease (CKD), associated with significant cardiovascular morbidity, hospitalization, and mortality. Since their inception nearly two decades ago, erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs) have revolutionized the care of patients with renal anemia, and their use has been associated with improved quality of life and reduced hospitalizations, inpatient costs, and mortality. Hemoglobin targets ≥13 g/dL have been linked with adverse events in recent randomized trials, raising concerns over the proper hemoglobin range for ESA treatment. This review appraises observational and randomized studies of the outcomes of erythropoietic treatment and offers recommendations for managing renal anemia in the primary care setting.
Anemia, a common manifestation of chronic kidney
disease (CKD), results primarily from inadequate renal
secretion of erythropoietin [1,2]. The prevalence and severity
of anemia worsen steadily as CKD advances (Figure 1) .
More than 30% of patients already have hemoglobin
(Hb) levels <12 g/dL by Stage 3 CKD  when the
estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) falls below 59 ml/
min/1.73 m2, and many patients develop anemia before
their CKD is diagnosed [3,4]. In patients with CKD not
requiring dialysis, untreated anemia increases
cardiovascular risk [5-7], hospitalization , and all-cause
mortality,  and diminishes health-related quality of life 
and exercise capacity [11,12]. Heightened risk for
progression of kidney failure has also been linked to untreated
anemia of CKD. Thus, management of anemia
throughout the CKD continuum is essential [1,2,13].
As renal disease often remains asymptomatic until eGFR
falls well below 60 mL/min/1.73 m2, CKD, as well as its
attendant anemia, remains underrecognized [14-16].
Once early CKD is diagnosed, the complexities of
managing multiple comorbidities, such as uncontrolled
diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and cardiac disease,
can displace clinical attention from anemia .
Traditionally, primary care physicians (PCPs) have been
less inclined to manage anemia of CKD and have often
relegated anemia treatment to a nephrologist [17-19].
However, recent claims data suggest that more than 60%
of commercially insured patients with CKD-related
anemia are treated exclusively by PCPs [17,19], whereas
patients using Medicare  or Veterans' Administration
services  are more likely to be managed by
nephrologists prior to dialysis onset. Rapid increases in the
endkPFiridgenvuearyledn1icseeaosfeanemia severity stratified by stage of chronic
Prevalence of anemia severity stratified by stage of
chronic kidney disease. Adapted from McClellan et al.,
stage kidney disease population  have leveled off in
recent years ; nevertheless, the aging baby boomer
generation, coupled with the epidemic of obesity and
diabetes, are predicted to increase the total burden of kidney
disease . Nephrologists bear a formidable share of the
responsibility for managing advanced CKD  and
frequently become sole providers of primary care to dialysis
patients . The ratio of dialysis recipients to
nephrologists is predicted to exceed 160:1 by 2010 . This
impending shortage highlights the need for PCP
management of early CKD and its consequences.
For patients with CKD, the risk of death from
cardiovascular complications exceeds the risk of progressing to renal
replacement therapy [26,27]. In a managed care study
 of 13,796 patients with eGFR values of 15–90 mL/
min/1.73 m2, 11,278 were in Stage 3 CKD and only 777
in Stage 4, reflecting the competing risks of cardiovascular
death and CKD progression. Stage 4 CKD patients of this
cohort died at a higher rate every year than age- and
sexmatched controls without CKD .
The recognition that Stage 3 CKD patients (estimated at
some 6 million in the US) are more likely to die than to
live long enough to reach end stage underscores the need
for CKD screening as well as the importance of
maintaining a high index of suspicion of occult cardiovascular
disease. PCPs are thus uniquely poised to detect and treat
Evidence-based guidelines published by the National
Kidney Foundation provide strategies for slowing the
progression of kidney disease [15,16,29], yet a significant
proportion of PCPs do not recognize the importance of
CKD-related anemia and its treatment . In a survey of
304 US physicians, only 78% of internists and only 59%
of family physicians correctly identified Stage 3–4 CKD in
a hypothetical case study . The potential risks and
benefits of treating anemia of CKD in patients not on
dialysis are presented here, with particular emphasis on
cardiovascular effects, the rate of CKD progression, and the
implications of recent clinical trials. Fortunately, anemia
is one of the most treatment-responsive complications of
CKD, and its adverse physiologic sequelae can be
prevented or delayed by more timely identification and
Prevalence of anemia in CKD
Estimates suggest that eleven percent of adults in the US
population have CKD  – an alarming prevalence
[32,33] fueled primarily by the diabetes epidemic and an
aging population that better survives longstanding heart
disease . US Renal Data System projections predict
that nearly 500,000 people will have end-stage renal
disease in 2010, compared with 431,000 in 2002  and
286,000 in 1995 . The cost of caring for CKD of all
stages will soon exceed the cost of the Medicare renal
replacement program itself [26,36]. Thus, reducing the
burden of CKD and its comorbidities (including anemia)
early in their course is a critical public health need.
Anemia of CKD (defined as Hb ≤12.0 g/dL) becomes
increasingly prevalent as kidney function declines,
ranging from approximately 27% in Stage 1 to 76% in Stage 5
(Figure 1) [3,32]. In the Prevalence of Anemia in Early
Renal Insufficiency study , 47.7% of patients with CKD
not requiring renal replacement had Hb ≤12 g/dL. Female
sex (especially before menopause) , African-American
race [3,32,37], and diabetes  are independent risk
factors for anemia at each stage of CKD. Anemia is less
common in CKD resulting from glomerulonephritis, multiple
myeloma (dysproteinemia) , or polycystic kidney
Pathophysiology of anemia of CKD
Anemia of CKD arises primarily from a progressive failure
of kidney endocrine function. Peritubular cells in the
kidney cortex function as oxygen sensors controlling red cell
mass. Renal tissue hypoxia triggers hypoxia-inducible
factor signaling, which, in turn, up-regulates erythropoietin
production  to stimulate division and differentiation
of red cell precursors. In anemic but otherwise healthy
individuals, this feedback system restores red blood cell
mass and tissue oxygenation; however, in patients with
CKD, one or more of these processes become impaired
. In early CKD, plasma erythropoietin levels may fall
within the normal range, but show a blunted response to
decreasing hematocrit. As CKD advances, the peritubular
cells progressively diminish in number and function,
producing insufficient erythropoietin to restore and maintain
appropriate red cell mass [2,40].
Anemia of CKD may reflect dysregulated erythropoietin
release as well as loss of peritubular cells. One hypothesis
involves down-regulation of erythropoietin production in
response to a decreased GFR . As functioning nephron
mass decreases, kidney metabolism consumes less
oxygen. Because the peritubular cells are not exposed to local
hypoxia, the stimulus to increase erythropoietin
production is absent and anemia and peripheral hypoxia go
Congestive heart failure (CHF) frequently complicates
CKD and adversely affects erythropoiesis.
Moderate-tosevere CKD  has been reported in 50% of patients
with CHF; conversely, approximately 40% of patients
with CKD have CHF . Untreated CHF may contribute
to anemia of CKD both by enhancing chronic
inflammation  and by directly inducing kidney damage [45-47]
Consequences of untreated anemia of CKD: observational
Among patients not requiring renal replacement,
untreated anemia of CKD is strongly associated with
cardiovascular [6,7,46,48-50] and renal [51,52]
complications, resulting in increased hospitalizations [8,28] and
Left Ventricular Hypertrophy
The cardiovascular system compensates for low blood
oxygenation by delivering a greater volume of blood to
the tissues. The necessary adaptive changes – chronic
vasodilation, volume and pressure overload, increased
heart rate, and increased cardiac output – ultimately result
in left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH) [2,7,13], whose
prevalence is estimated at 39% in Stage 2 CKD, 50% in
Stage 3 CKD [6,7], and 60%-74% in Stage 4 . In a
Canadian prospective study of patients with creatinine
clearance = 25 mL/min to 75 mL/min, each 0.5 g/dL Hb
decrease conferred a 32% increased likelihood of
developing LVH [odds ratio = 1.32, 95% confidence interval (CI)
1.10 to 1.69, P = 0.004]. Decreasing Hb was an
independent risk factor for left ventricular growth when the analysis
controlled for residual kidney function .
TFhigeucraerd2iorenal anemia syndrome
The cardiorenal anemia syndrome. Congestive heart
failure (CHF) is a cause and consequence of CKD. First, CHF
inflames the heart, liver, and vasculature, creating an influx of
circulating cytokines that depress erythropoiesis and perturb
iron metabolism . Second, CHF directly induces kidney
damage, in which GFR can deteriorate by as much as one mL/
min/month [45–47]. In response to reduced cardiac output,
blood pressure (and renal perfusion) is maintained by
activation of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system.
Angiotensin II-mediated renal vasoconstriction and increased
metabolic demands of the kidney result in renal ischemia and
ultimately tubular cell death . Renal cell death in turn
hastens anemia through loss of endocrine function. In addition,
aldosterone-induced salt and water retention leads to an
increased pre-load on the heart, which increases its rate in
an attempt to increase output.
Congestive Heart Failure
Chronic LVH and mechanical heart stress resulting from
anemia contribute to development of congestive heart
failure (CHF) . Anemia has been described as a
"mortality multiplier" in patients with comorbid CKD and
CHF . In the ANCHOR study  of 59,772 adults
with CHF, 42.6% had anemia at baseline (Hb <12 g/dL
for women, <13 g/dL for men). In this cohort, anemia
showed a graded, independent relationship to mortality
in CHF patients, the risk of death rising from 16% for
12.0–12.9 g/dL to 248% for <9.0 g/d, which compared to
a reference group with Hb 13.0 g/dL to 13.9 g/dL
represents adjusted hazard ratios of 1.16 and 3.48, respectively.
Hb levels in relation to risk showed a J-shaped curve in
this population, not all of whom had CKD; Hb levels
either below 13.0 g/dL or above 17.0 g/dL were associated
with increased risk of hospitalization and mortality .
Coronary Heart Disease
Anemia of CKD contributes to coronary ischemia by
reducing oxygen delivery. In the Atherosclerosis Risk in
Communities (ARIC) study , anemia independently
predicted coronary heart disease in CKD patients.
Participants with anemia and elevated serum creatinine (≥1.2
mg/dL in women or ≥1.5 mg/dL in men) had increased
risk for coronary heart disease over 10.5 years of
followup (relative risk = 2.74, 95% CI 1.42 to 5.28) .
Elevated creatinine without anemia did not significantly
increase coronary risk (relative risk 1.20, 95% CI 0.86 to
Progression to Renal Replacement
Untreated anemia of CKD is also associated with
increased risk of progression to renal replacement. In a
retrospective US Veterans' Affairs cohort, each 1.0 g/dL
increase in time-averaged Hb conferred a 26% reduction
in risk for renal replacement (hazard ratio = 0.74, 95% CI
0.65 to 0.84) . Among diabetic nephropathy patients
in the Reduction of Endpoint in NIDDM with the
Angiotensin II Antagonist Losartan (RENAAL) study , Hb
<11.3 g/dL roughly doubled the risk of renal replacement
onset (hazard ratio = 1.99, 95% CI 1.34 to 2.95, 3.4 years
mean follow-up), and every 1 g/dL Hb decrease increased
renal replacement risk by 11% .
Treating anemia of CKD in patients not on dialysis:
Several interventional studies have tested the hypothesis
that treating anemia of CKD with erythropoietic agents
may reduce or reverse cardiac complications and retard
the rate of CKD progression (Tables 1 and 2). This
hypothesis reflects not only the observational associations
between untreated anemia and cardiorenal morbidity, but
also the physiologic connections between anemia and
cardiorenal pathology (Figure 2).
Early interventional studies [47,54-59] supported the
notion that treating anemia with erythropoietic agents
improves cardiac and renal prognosis. Unexpectedly, the
recent randomized controlled trials Correction of
Hemoglobin and Outcomes in Renal Insufficiency (CHOIR)
 and Cardiovascular Risk Reduction by Early Anemia
Treatment with Epoetin (CREATE)  showed
unforeseen increases in cardiovascular events  and dialysis
initiation  among patients assigned to the highest Hb
targets, prompting reexamination of the optimal targets
and appropriate recipients of erythropoietic therapies.
cated to a high-Hb group (target, 13.5 g/dL) or a low-Hb
group (target, 11.3 g/dL); Hb goals were achieved and
maintained by titrated dosages of epoetin alfa. The trial
was stopped after a mean follow-up of 16 months, when
the primary outcome was reached by more patients in the
high-Hb than low-Hb group (17.5% vs. 13.5%, P = 0.03).
Significantly more patients in the high-Hb group reported
histories of hypertension (95.8% vs 93.2%; P = 0.03) or
coronary artery bypass grafts (17.4% vs 13.5%; P = 0.05)
at baseline, suggesting an uneven baseline cardiovascular
risk burden between the groups.
The design of the international CREATE study (N = 603)
 was similar to CHOIR. Patients with eGFR values of
15.0 mL/min/1.73 m2 to 35.0 mL/min/1.73 m2 and Hb
levels of 11 g/dL to 12.5 g/dL were randomized to receive
early epoetin beta therapy to an Hb target of 13 g/dL to 15
g/dL or deferred epoetin beta therapy initiated when Hb
levels fell below 10.5 g/dL. The primary endpoint was a
composite of eight cardiovascular events. During an
average follow-up of three years, the likelihood of a first
cardiovascular event was not statistically different in the
highHb group than in the low-Hb group (19.3% vs. 15.6%, P
= 0.20) . Because the event rate in the low-Hb group
was about half that expected, CREATE may be
underpowered to detect differences in cardiovascular outcomes .
The differences between the CHOIR and CREATE results
and those of earlier studies invite assessment of the factors
underlying the differences and their implications for
anemia treatment in the CKD population not requiring renal
Cardiovascular Benefits and Risks
Data from both the CHOIR  and CREATE  studies
have generated concern that Hb targets >13 g/dL are
associated with increased incidence of cardiovascular
complications and serious adverse events. In CHOIR, 125
endpoint events (composite of death, myocardial
infarction, hospitalized CHF without dialysis, or stroke)
occurred in the high-Hb group versus 97 events in the
low-Hb group (HR, 1.34; 95% CI, 1.03 to 1.74; P = 0.03).
CHOIR's surprising results echo those of an earlier
prospective trial  in dialysis patients that was terminated
early because of a trend toward higher rates of death and
first non-fatal myocardial infarction with Hct targets of
42% versus 30%. Nevertheless, the lowest mortality rates
in the latter study occurred in those patients with the
highest Hct (32–42%).
The primary outcome of the US-based CHOIR study (N =
1432), which enrolled CKD patients with eGFR values of
15 to 50 mL/min/1.73 m2 and Hb levels <11 g/dL, was a
composite of death, myocardial infarction,
hospitalization for heart failure, or stroke . Patients were
alloIn CHOIR , the lower Hb target (11.3 g/dL) was
associated with a significantly higher incidence of myocardial
infarction reported as an adverse event than the higher Hb
target (13.5 g/dL) (10 patients [1.5%] vs 19 patients [3%],
P = 0.05).
Reference 4 (study design)
1 Left ventricular hypertrophy
Roger et al.  (r, mc, uncontrolled)
Congestive heart failure
Mancini et al.  (r)
4 Silverberg et al.  (retrospective)
Silverberg et al.  (nr)
GFR 15–35 mL/min/1.73 m2, Hb
11.0–12.5 g/dL;3 yrs
CrCl 15–50 mL/min, Hb 11.0–
12.0 g/dL (in women) and 11–13
g/dL (in men);2 yr or until
SrCr<2.5 mg/dL, NYHA
functional class III-IV,
Mean NYHA 3.66, SrCr
2.6 mg/dL, Hct 30%, Hb
10 g/dL;>6 mo
NYHA class III-IV, LVEF ≤40%,
Hb 10–11.5 g/dL, 50% with
CKD; 8.2 mo
NIDDM or no NIDDM plus
severe CHF, GFR decline
>1 mL/min/mo; 11.8 mo
40 (Hb <10 g/dL)
In anemic pts, LVMI decreased vs baseline (142 vs 157 g/m2;P = 0.007) as Hb
increased from 9.1 to 11.3 g/dL (P = 0.001).
EPO to 13–15 g/dL
Composite of 8 cardiovascular
events (primary), LVMI
Mean change-from-baseline LVMI
Mean change-from baseline LVMI
high-Hb group, 120.3 ± 35.0 g/m2
low-Hb group, 118.0 ± 34.3 g/m2
Change at year 1:
High-Hb group, -4.6 g/m2
Low-Hb group, -3.3 g/m2; P = 0.59
Change at year 2
High-Hb group, -6.4 g/m2
Low-Hb group, -7.8 g/m2
Mean LVMI change from baseline:
early EPO, +0.37 g/m2
deferred EPO, +5.21 g/m2
Changes from baseline:
Functional status 3.7 to 2.7, P < 0.05
LVEF 28% to 35%, P < 0.001
No. of hospitalizations/pt 2.7 to 0.2, P < 0.05).
EPO to 10.5–11.5 g/dL
Early EPO to Hb 12–14 g/dL
Deferred EPO to 9.0–10.5 g/dL
EPO to Hb 12–13 g/dL
EPO to Hb 9–10 g/dL
Placebo EPO + IV iron to Hb 12 g/dL
EPO + IV iron to Hb ≥12.5 g/dL
EPO 15 000–30 000/wk
Blood and exercise parameters
NYHA functional status, LVEF,
NYHA functional status, LVEF,
NYHA functional class; VAS for
fatigue and breathlessness; LVEF
Reference (study design) Dean et al.  (retrospective)
Level of renal function; trial duration
eGFR 30–59 mL/min/1.73 m2 (n = 71)
eGFR <29 mL/min/1.73 m2 (n =51)
Hb = 10–11.9 g/dL or 8.0–9.9 g/dL
EPO to 13–15 g/dL
EPO to 10.5–11.5 g/dL
Early EPO to Hb≥3 g/dL
Deferred EPO when
20 (Hb<10 g/dL) EPO to 11.5 g/dL
43 (Hb>10 g/dL) Standard care
Doubling of baseline SrCr
EPO to Hct 33–35%
EPO for Hb 14–15 g/dL (men)
and 13–14 g/dL (women)
Change-from-baseline GFR as
estimated by iohexol clearance
PRN EPO for Hb 11–12 g/dL
SrCr and CrCl
CREATE study  (r)
eGFR 15–35 mL/min/1.73 m2, Hb
11.0–12.5 g/dL;3 yrs
Gouva et al.  (r, mc)
SrCr 2–6 mg/dL (eGFR not given), Hb
9.0–11.6 g/dL;22.5 mo
Jungers et al.  (c-cs)
Predialysis (CrCl ≤15 mL/min) pts
(eGFR not given); 24 mo
Kuriyama et al.  (r)
SrCr 2–4 mg/dL (eGFR not given),
Hematocrit<30%;28 mo median follow-up
Rossert et al. 
(r, mc, uncontrolled)a
SrCr 2–4 mg/dL, Hematocrit>30%;28 mo
Iothalamate GFR 25–60 mL/min; 40 mo
Silverberg et al.  (nr)
Cockcroft-Gault eGFR decline >1 mL/min
per mo; 11.8 mo
a Because of labeling changes for EPO, this study terminated after 7.4 and 8.3 months of maintenance in the high and low Hb group, respectively.
c-cs = case-control study; CHF = congestive heart failure;CrCl = creatinine clearance; db = double-blind; EPO = epoetin; (e)GFR = (estimated) glomerular filtration rate; Hct = hematocrit; mc =
multicenter; IV = intravenous; mo = months; NIDDM = noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus; nr = nonrandomized; PLA = placebo; PRN = as required; pts = patients; r = randomized; SrCr = serum
creatinine; wks = weeks.
Change in least-squares slope
of inverse serum creatinine
clearance vs time before and
Time to dialysis (secondary)
eGFR also assessed
Composite of doubling of
baseline SrCr, renal
replacement or death
Change-from-baseline rate of
decline in creatinine clearance,
time to dialysis
Baseline eGFR 30–59 ml/min/1.73 m2:
Pre-EPO rate, dL/mg/yr:
-0.0981 (95% CI, -0.12, -0.07)
Post-EPO rate, dL/mg/yr: -0.0692 (95% CI, -0.09, -0.04)
Weighted mean difference, dL/mg/yr: 0.0454 (95% CI, 0.0150, 0.0757)
Baseline eGFR <29 ml/min/1.73 m2:
Pre-EPO rate, dL/mg/yr: -0.0899 (95% CI, -0.12, -0.06)
Post-EPO rate, dL/mg/yr: -0.0416 (95% CI, -0.06, -0.02)
Weighted mean difference, dL/mg/yr: 0.0493 (95% CI, 0.0272, 0.0679)
Pre-EPO rate, dL/mg/yr: -0.0937 (95% CI, -0.11, -0.08)
Post-EPO rate, dL/mg/yr: -0.0569 (95% CI, -0.07, -0.04)
Weighted mean difference, dL/mg/yr: 0.0475 (95% CI, 0.0272, 0.0679) P < 0.05
Composite endpoint: Early EPO pts, 29% Deferred EPO pts, 53%; P = 0.0078
Renal replacement: Early EPO pts, 22% Deferred EPO pts, 42%; P = 0.011
Doubling of baseline SrCr
EPO, 52% of pts Standard care, 84% of pts
Nonanemic control, 60% of pts
Progression to dialysis:
EPO, 33% of pts
Standard care, 65% of pts (P = 0.008)
Nonanemic control, 37% of pts
High Hb group -0.058 mL/min/1.73 m2
Low Hb group -0.081 mL/min/1.73 m2.
No significant difference between groups
GFR decline halted in both groups
In CREATE , the high-Hb group reported a greater
incidence of hypertensive episodes (89 patients [30%] vs
59 patients [20%]; P < 0.005) and headaches (31 patients
[10%] vs 16 patients [5%]; P = 0.03) in comparison with
the low-Hb group. These findings, together with earlier
reports of hypertension in ESA-treated CKD patients
[58,64-67] emphasize the need to monitor blood pressure
carefully during erythropoietic treatment. Current
labeling of approved agents warns against beginning anemia
treatment in the presence of uncontrolled hypertension
The currently ongoing Trial to Reduce Cardiovascular
Events with Aranesp (TREAT)  is a double-blind study
comparing darbepoetin alfa treatment (Hb target, 13 g/
dL) versus placebo in patients with type 2 diabetes and
CKD to assess effects on cardiovascular morbidity due to
acute myocardial ischemia. Placebo recipients are eligible
for a rescue darbepoetin administration only if their Hb
falls below 9 g/dL. TREAT has currently enrolled 3500 of
4000 planned patients  – more than CREATE and
CHOIR combined. Patients will be followed until the
required number of endpoint events for analysis have
accrued (i.e., TREAT is an event-driven study). Its Data
Safety Monitoring Board recently evaluated interim
results in view of CREATE, CHOIR, and the March 2007
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory [72,73]
and allowed TREAT to continue .
Renal Benefits and Risks
When erythropoietic agents were first introduced, animal
data suggesting a potential adverse effect on renal disease
progression was a focus of concern. Subsequent research
linked this effect with increases in blood pressure
associated with rapidly rising Hb levels, an effect that was
prevented by appropriate control of Hb and blood pressure.
A recent review suggests that treating anemia of CKD does
not hasten progression to renal replacement ; indeed,
some studies point to possible renoprotection (Table 2).
In a retrospective study of US veterans , the rate of
decline in kidney function (least-squares slope of the
reciprocal of serum creatinine) was almost halved after
the onset of epoetin use as compared with the
pre-treatment rate. In a 2004 randomized study  comparing
epoetin treatment targeted to Hb >13 g/dL with deferred
treatment beginning at <9 g/dL, roughly half as many
patients required renal replacement in the early group (10
of 45 patients) as in the late group (18 of 43 patients).
In CREATE , although the rates of eGFR change did
not differ between groups, a significantly higher rate of
progression to dialysis occurred in patients assigned to a
high-Hb level (13 to 15 g/dL) than a low-Hb level (10.5
to 11.5 g/dL). In CHOIR , in contrast, proportions of
patients requiring renal replacement did not differ
between groups with Hb targets of 11.3 or 13.5 g/dL.
There is a paucity of information on the effect of anemia
treatment on measured GFR. Effects of anemia treatment
on renal function were assessed by disparate methods
among the studies cited in Table 2 and those in the
Cochrane systematic review . Discordances among
renal results in CREATE, CHOIR, and previous studies
point to the need for a further randomized trial of anemia
therapy in which change in the rate of decline in measured
GFR is a primary endpoint.
Cognition and Quality of Life
In patients on dialysis, untreated anemia can result in
objective cognitive deficits , and treatment of anemia
is associated with improved cognitive and social
functioning . Thus, cognitive and quality-of-life effects have
also been assessed in patients at earlier stages of CKD
receiving anemia treatment. A meta-analysis in this
population associates erythropoietin use with improved
physical function, energy, sense of well-being, and ability to
work . In CREATE, mean quality-of-life scores were
higher in the normalized Hb group (13.0 g/dL to 15.0 g/
dL) than the low-Hb group (10.5 g/dL to 11.5 g/dL)
during the first year and became similar between groups
thereafter . In CHOIR, quality of life did not differ
between Hb target groups. Thus, improvement in quality
of life with erythropoietic treatment may be intuitive but
is not yet proven.
Management of Adults with Anemia of Chronic Kidney
Clinical Evaluation and Diagnosis
Screening for anemia and other comorbidities is essential
for patients diagnosed with Stage 3 CKD . The course
of CKD is often gradual (years to decades), and decline in
Hb, like decline in eGFR, may be evident only with
periodic evaluation. Annual determination of renal function
and Hb levels may suffice for slowly progressing or early
CKD . Patients with moderate-to-severe CKD may
require more frequent Hb monitoring since the likelihood
of anemia is greater in this population; more frequent
monitoring (at least monthly) is also required during
treatment with stimulants of erythropoiesis. Patients with
an eGFR below 30 mL/min/1.73 m2 are considered
appropriate for referral to a nephrologist, and many PCPs and
nephrologists prefer a higher eGFR referral trigger as Stage
3 approaches. It is prudent to screen for anemia in CKD
patients during and after acute episodes of uncontrolled
comorbid disease (eg, poor glycemic control).
All patients with independent risk factors for CKD-related
anemia warrant close hematologic evaluation during
follow-up clinic visits. In addition, diabetic patients are twice
as likely to develop anemia as their nondiabetic
counterparts at the same level of renal function [37,70], and the
prevalence of anemia in patients with cardiovascular
disease is also significant [42,43]. Patients should also be
checked for malnutrition and vitamin deficiency
A Hb level below 12.0 g/dL in women or 13.5 g/dL in men
warrants clinical work-up for anemia (Table 3). In
general, CKD-related anemia is normochromic and
normocytic with bone marrow of normal cellularity. With
impaired production and/or activity of erythropoietin, the
anemia is usually hypoproliferative, as determined by the
absolute reticulocyte count.
While the propriety of treating anemia of CKD is well
established to within a Hb target range of 11–12 g/dL, full
normalization of Hb in these patients remains
controversial, and benefits remain unproven. New guidelines
published by the Kidney Disease Outcomes Quality Initiative
(KDOQI) in August 2007 recommend a Hb target range of
11–12 g/dL for patients with CKD . The CHOIR 
and CREATE  studies indicate evidence of risk and no
evidence of benefit from treating to Hb levels >13.0 g/dL
as compared with ≤12 g/dL. A 2007 FDA advisory [72,73]
recommends maintaining Hb within the range of 10–12
g/dL. Evidence reviewed in the KDOQI guidelines [16,29]
suggests that treating to maintain Hb at or above 11 g/dL
provides quality of life benefits without increased adverse
events. Routine monitoring (preferably monthly) of
blood pressure, renal function, Hb, and iron studies is
required to obtain the most effective regimen of
erythropoietic therapy [68,69]. The current FDA advisory [72,73]
recommends more frequent Hb monitoring (twice
weekly) during initial correction of anemia and after ESA
Identification and clinical evaluation
TSAT or Hb content in reticulocytes
Target risk factors
Stimulants of erythropoiesis
Patients with CKD should be evaluated for the presence of anemia once GFR reaches 60 mL/min.
Kidney function (and Hb level) should be assessed in all patients with cardiovascular disease and
Determines severity of anemia. Hb is a more reliable surrogate marker than hematocrit. Dosages
of erythropoietic agents are titrated to the absolute Hb value, taking into account the relative
increase from the last dosage.
Information on: potential folate and vitamin B12 deficiency (high MCV indicative of macrocytosis);
iron deficiency (low MCH indicative of hypochromia); and capacity of bone marrow function.
Determination of proliferative activity
Assessment of iron storage reserves (target, 200 ng/mL). There is little evidence to suggest
treating patients with levels >500 ng/mL is worthwhile.
Iron balance and distribution (TSAT target > 20%).
Progression of CKD can be delayed by tight control of blood pressure, blood glucose, and
Recommended in anemic patients to maintain Hb levels between 11.0 g/dL and 12.0 g/dL. Monthly
follow-up is required to ensure the regimen does not raise Hb >12 g/dL and/or induce
Oral iron preparations (FeSO4, Niferex, Proferrin, etc.) may be sufficient to raise iron stores,
though monthly IV iron supplementation may be required to ensure optimal erythropoiesis in
patients with iron-deficiency anemia. Iron gluconate or iron sucrose are safer than iron dextran,
which has been associated with anaphylaxis. Emerging IV iron agents are designed to minimize free
iron and oxidative stress; an emerging oral iron agent utilizes the heme iron receptor in the gut
for enhanced absorption.
Oral supplementation of folate, pyridoxine and vitamin B12 (and other vitamins) is a rational
choice in malnourished patients.
MCH = mean corpuscular hemoglobin; MCV = mean corpuscular volume; MCHC = mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration,
Hb = hemoglobin; TSAT = serum transferrin saturation.
It is essential to control hypertension before and during
stimulated erythropoiesis [72,73]. Determination of
serum ferritin and transferrin saturation is advised before
initiation of erythropoietic therapy and every 1–3 months
during therapy (Table 3) . Patients with stable Hb in
the target range who are receiving a stable dose of an
erythropoietic agent should have their Hb checked
monthly . In iron-deficient patients, oral
supplementation with inorganic iron salts may be sufficient, but
more often parenteral iron is required in the form of iron
gluconate or iron sucrose, which have supplanted iron
dextran because of superior safety profiles. Physiologic
levels of folate, vitamin B12, and pyridoxine can be
maintained with oral supplementation.
Anemia, a clinical manifestation of reduced kidney
function, is often underrecognized in patients with CKD.
Substantial mortality and morbidity are associated with
advanced CKD, and current evidence suggests that early
proactive multimodal treatment can improve outcomes.
PCPs are uniquely positioned to screen at-risk patients for
early CKD and anemia. In most patients, the severity of
anemia can be easily reduced by use of erythropoietic
agents and intravenous iron as necessary in the primary
care setting. Monthly follow-up is required to evaluate
general cardiorenal health and to ensure that Hb levels do
not overshoot the optimal range of 11–12 g/dL, given
current questions regarding the optimal Hb target. The
burden of CKD and its complications is expected to continue
to increase. With a shortage of nephrologists predicted, an
expanded role for PCPs in the management of CKD and
its attendant anemia may avert this potential public
RJS: advisor or consultant – Roche, Ortho Biotech, Amgen
CLD: speakers' bureau – Amgen
RJS and CLD jointly participated in the article's
conceptual development and multiple substantive revisions and
approved the final version.
Article-processing charges and editorial services were funded by Roche.
The authors acknowledge the editorial assistance of Kim Coleman Healy,
PhD, from Envision Pharma in the development of this manuscript. The
funding source did not review or comment upon the manuscript;
responsibility for content and interpretations rests with the authors. Envision
Pharma supports Good Publication Practices Working Group and
American Medical Writers' Association guidelines.
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