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Image of normal and anemic cells Anemia and Kidney Disease

Anemia is a health problem that affects your blood. Normally, the kidneys send out a signal (erythropoietin) that tells your body when to make new red blood cells. But if you have kidney disease, your kidneys may not be able to send this signal. Use this handout to help you understand anemia and the medication that can help control it.

What Is Anemia?

Anemia occurs when your blood does not have enough red cells in it. Then your blood can’t carry as much oxygen to your body. As a result, all your organs are running on too little fuel. Red blood cells make up 35 to 45 percent of normal blood. If you have anemia, your red cell count (hematocrit) is below 35.

Image of womanSigns of Anemia

Talk with your health care provider if you have any of these signs:

  • Ongoing fatigue

  • Shortness of breath

  • Rapid, irregular heartbeat

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Impotence

  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded

  • Constant feeling of being cold

 Medication Can Help

If you’re at risk for anemia, you may be given a medication called epoetin alfa (sometimes called EPO). EPO is a manmade version of erythropoietin. EPO controls anemia by signaling your body to make red blood cells. Most people who take EPO feel better and become more active.

How EPO Is Used

EPO may be used to treat any person with kidney disease who has anemia, but is most often used to treat people on dialysis. EPO can be given by IV during a hemodialysis session and can also be given as an injection. This is how most CAPD patients receive it.


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