Anemia

What is anemia?
Anemia is a condition that develops when your blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the main part of red blood cells and binds oxygen. If you have too few or abnormal red blood cells, or your hemoglobin is abnormal or low, the cells in your body will not get enough oxygen

What are the symptoms of anemia?
Anemia can cause you to:

  • Look pale
  • Feel tired
  • Have little energy
  • Have a poor appetite
  • Have trouble sleeping
  • Have trouble thinking clearly
  • Feel dizzy or have headaches
  • Have a rapid heartbeat
  • Feel short of breath

Why do people with kidney disease get anemia?
Your kidneys make an important hormone called erythropoietin (EPO). EPO tells your body to make red blood cells. When you have kidney disease, your kidneys cannot make enough EPO. Low EPO levels cause your red blood cell count to drop and anemia to develop.  Anemia can happen early in the course of kidney disease and grow worse as kidneys fail and can no longer make EPO. Anemia is especially common if you:

  • Have diabetes
  • Are African-American/Black
  • Have moderate or severe loss of kidney function (CKD stage 3 or 4)
  • Have kidney failure (stage 5)
  • Are female

How do I know if I have anemia?
Not everyone with anemia has symptoms. If you have kidney disease, you should have a blood test to measure your hemoglobin level at least once a year to check for anemia. Hemoglobin is the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout your body. If your hemoglobin is too low, it is likely you have anemia. In that case, your healthcare provider will check to find the exact cause of your anemia and plan a treatment that is right for you.

How do you treat anemia?
Your treatment will depend on the exact cause of your anemia.
If your anemia is due to kidney disease, your healthcare provider will treat you with:

  • Drugs called erythropoiesis stimulating agents (ESAs)
    ESAs help your body make red blood cells. Your healthcare provider will give the ESA to you as an injection under the skin.
  • Iron supplements
    Your body also needs iron to make red blood cells—especially when you are receiving ESAs. Without enough iron, your ESA treatment will not work as well. Your healthcare provider may prescribe or suggest an over-the-counter iron supplement in addition to your ESA treatment.
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