Anaemia of chronic kidney disease increases the risk of death and adverse events, but can be managed using erythropoiesis stimulating agents (ESAs). However, recent evidence suggests that targeting a higher haemoglobin concentration ([Hb]) increases mortality risk, and both higher [Hb] targets and ESA doses have been implicated. Nonetheless, a causative role has not been demonstrated, and this potential relationship requires further appraisal in such a complex patient group.
The relationship between the haematopoietic response to ESAs and patient survival in 302 stable, prevalent dialysis patients was explored in a prospective, single-centre study. Clinical and laboratory parameters influencing mortality and ESA resistance were analysed. Patients were stratified into 5 groups, according to their [Hb] and ESA dosage, and were followed for 2 years.
Little difference in co-morbidities between groups was identified. 73 patients died and 36 were transplanted. Initial analysis suggested a direct relationship between mortality and ESA dosage. However, Cox proportional hazards multivariate analysis demonstrated mortality risk was associated only with age (adjusted HR per year: 1.061, 95% CI 1.031-1.092), dialysis duration (adjusted HR: 1.010, 95% CI 1.004-1.016), peripheral vascular disease (adjusted HR: 1.967, 95% CI 1.083-3.576) and CRP (adjusted HR: 1.024, 95% CI 1.011-1.039). Mortality was increased in patients poorly responsive to ESAs (55.5%).
ESA dose does not appear to contribute substantially to mortality risk in dialysis patients. Instead, age and co-morbidities appear to be the critical determinants. A poor response to ESAs is a marker of overall poor health status.