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Anemia in Chronic Kidney Disease

By Doreen Ventura, MD

Your kidneys play a vital role in maintaining good health, including the production of a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO). EPO helps with the formation of red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body.  Individuals with chronic kidney disease (CKD) may develop anemia as their kidney function declines.

Anemia occurs when red blood cell counts (hemoglobin) fall below the normal range. When an individual has anemia, they have less red blood cells available to carry oxygen to vital organs throughout the body.  Anemia is common in individuals who suffer from chronic kidney disease (CKD), especially in patients with CKD stage 3, 4 and 5.  Anemia in chronic kidney disease can occur when there is a decrease in iron, or if the kidneys no longer produce enough EPO.  Lack of EPO leads to a reduction in the number of oxygen-rich red blood cells produced in the body.  Anemia and its symptoms may worsen as kidney function declines.

Common symptoms of anemia include:

  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Lack of appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dizziness and headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pale appearance of the skin

Not everyone who develops anemia will experience symptoms. It is important that individuals with chronic kidney disease monitor their hemoglobin (red blood cell count) level at least once a year to assess for anemia.

If your hemoglobin level is low, your nephrologist can help you determine the underlying cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan for you. If anemia is caused by a lack of iron, your nephrologist may recommend taking a daily iron supplement. If iron supplements are not enough, your provider may recommend periodic intravenous iron infusion treatments.  If anemia is due to low EPO production, your doctor may prescribe a medication known as an erythropoiesis stimulating agent (ESA), to help stimulate red blood cell production.

If you are receiving dialysis for End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) your nephrologists will monitor blood counts and iron levels closely to ensure they are within the desired range. If there is a drop in iron, the nephrologist can order iron infusion treatments that can be given during the dialysis treatment. In some cases, ESAs will also be prescribed for dialysis patients when appropriate.

DMG nephrologists work closely with their patients to diagnose and manage any kidney issues and kidney-related health issues, including anemia.  To schedule an appointment with a DMG Nephrologist, call 630-873-8889 or visit https://www.dupagemedicalgroup.com/services/nephrology.

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