What Is Erythropoietin Beta?

Jacquelyn Gilchrist

Erythropoietin beta, also called epoetin beta, is a medication prescribed to treat anemia. It is a synthetic drug that mimics the effects of a hormone naturally made in the body. This drug works by encouraging the increased production of red blood cells in the bone marrow. Erythropoietin beta is classified as an erythropiesis-stimulating agent (ESA) and it is similar to another ESA called erythropoietin alpha.

Red blood cells are produced in bone marrow.
Red blood cells are produced in bone marrow.

Unlike erythropoietin alpha, this drug is not typically used to treat anemia in patients whose condition is caused by chemotherapy for cancer. This is because erythroepoietin beta can increase the spread of cancer and elevate mortality rates. It may help patients with anemia caused by impaired kidney function or chronic kidney failure, who may or may not be undergoing dialysis treatments.

Erythropoietin beta helps to treat anemia in patients who also have kidney failure and may be undergoing dialysis.
Erythropoietin beta helps to treat anemia in patients who also have kidney failure and may be undergoing dialysis.

This medication is given in the form of an injection subcutaneously, or under the skin, or intravenously into a vein. The doctor may inject it or show the patient how to inject it at home. Possible injection sites include the lower stomach, upper arm, or thigh. A different injection site should be used each time. Erythroepoietin beta may be prescribed once monthly or every two weeks, and patients may not notice benefits from the drug for up to six weeks.

Certain precautions should be followed while using erythropoietin beta. Patients will undergo regular blood tests to ensure that the medication is working properly. These tests also help monitor the hemoglobin levels, which is a protein within the red blood cells. Erythropoietin beta may sometimes cause a sharp rise in hemoglobin, which may lead to life-threatening heart problems. Patients will also have their blood pressure checked regularly.

Some side effects may occur while using erythropoietin beta for treating anemia, which should be reported to the prescribing physician if they become severe. Patients may experience vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea or constipation. Cold or flu-like symptoms may occur, such as headaches, a cough, or a stuffy nose, along with a sore throat. Patients may also experience muscle aches, back pain, or reactions at the injection site, including redness, swelling, or pain.

More serious side effects from erythropoietin beta require a doctor's urgent care. Patients who have developed heart problems due to a sharp rise in hemoglobin may experience chest pain, pain that spreads to the arm or shoulder, or a rapid heartbeat. Pain or swelling in the legs, rapid breathing, and problems with speech, vision, or balance have been reported. Other serious side effects may include fainting, feeling lightheaded, and sudden numbness.

Before using erythropoietin beta, patients must disclose their other medical conditions, medications, and supplements. It is unknown whether it may pass into breast milk; however, it may harm an unborn baby. Erythropoietin beta may be contraindicated for use by those with high blood pressure, heart problems, or a seizure disorder.

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