Low red blood cell count is common in kidney disease

People with chronic kidney disease (CKD) commonly have anemia, a condition caused by low levels of red blood cells in the body. This is because when your kidneys are not working correctly, they fail to produce erythropoietin, a hormone that signals the body to produce red blood cells. These red blood cells circulate oxygen throughout the body, helping all of your organs, muscles and blood vessels to function properly. When you have too few red blood cells, you may have symptoms such as fatigue, paleness, difficulty concentrating, shortness of breath, and dizziness. As CKD progresses, these symptoms of anemia tend to worsen.

Among people with CKD, anemia is more common among those who have diabetes or who are African American.

Diagnosing and treating kidney disease-related anemia

If you are being treated for CKD, you are likely having blood tests at regular intervals and your doctor will have an eye on your condition. It is important, however, to share any new or unusual symptoms with your doctor and to follow through with any recommended testing. If the results of your test indicate anemia, your doctor will recommend a plan that may include an erythropoiesis-stimulating agent (ESA), a medication that signals to your body to start producing red blood cells, as well as iron supplementation, either in pill form or as an injection, which also supports red blood cell production. In some cases, if your red blood cell levels are dangerously low, you may need a red blood cell transfusion.

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