Anemia and kidney disease
What is anemia?
In basic terms, anemia occurs when your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells. Red blood cells are important because they help distribute oxygen to all the other cells in your body. Since your cells need oxygen in order to work properly, a shortage can have a number of different side effects. Some of the symptoms of anemia may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Pale skin and gums
- A fast or irregular heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Cold hands and feet
Experiencing one or more of these conditions does not necessarily mean you have anemia. Talk to your doctor if you notice any of the above symptoms so he or she can test for anemia.
How are anemia and kidney disease related?
People with kidney disease are susceptible to anemia because kidneys play a role in creating healthy red blood cells. When kidneys are functioning properly, they produce a hormone called erythropoietin, also referred to as EPO. EPO is crucial to red blood cell production. Once produced by the kidneys, erythropoietin stimulates the bone marrow to make red blood cells.
Anemia can also be caused by iron deficiency. There are several iron-rich foods (such as meat and iron-fortified foods) that can help add iron to the diet. However, some high iron foods also contain high amounts of protein, which may be limited if you are in the earlier stages of kidney disease and following a low protein kidney diet. Iron medication may be prescribed for people with iron deficiency. If you believe you may be anemic, talk with your doctor to see if your kidney disease is causing your anemia and what can be done to help you.
What can I do for anemia if I have kidney disease?
Depending on your stage of kidney disease, severity of anemia and your medical status, your doctor will prescribe a treatment for you. Medicines such as Procrit® and Epogen® can help raise your EPO levels. It may be necessary to take both an erythropoietin-stimulating drug and an iron supplement since they often work better when taken together. It is also possible you may need B-12 and folic acid supplements if your anemia is due to low levels of these vitamins. Discuss all of these options with your doctor before you make any changes to your diet or the medicines and supplements you take.
Women with anemia and kidney disease
Because women who menstruate lose blood every month, those with kidney disease may be more prone to anemia and iron deficiency. Some women with kidney disease may not have regular periods, but can still have anemia or an iron deficiency. If you are a woman with kidney disease, you should discuss the possibility of anemia and low iron with your doctor to determine the monitoring and treatment that is right for you.
People with kidney disease should be aware that they are at risk for anemia. Have your iron and hemoglobin levels checked especially if you feel tired and have other symptoms of anemia. Talk with your doctor about your diet, prescriptions and other things you may be able to do that can help your body maintain a healthy red blood cell count.
Related articles on DaVita.com