What Is the Connection between Erythropoietin and Anemia?

Kristeen Moore

Erythropoietin and anemia are directly related to red blood cells. The former is a type of hormone that the kidneys help to produce to create red blood cells. When the body is deficient in erythropoietin (EPO), red blood cells cannot be produced. Anemia occurs when there is a decreased amount of red cells in the blood. Both a lack of erythropoietin and anemia can be indicative of a kidney problem.

Anemia can leave many patients fatigued and short of breath.
Anemia can leave many patients fatigued and short of breath.

The bloodstream is made up of both red and white blood cells, with red being in the majority. White cells boost the immune system and help to ward off infections, while red blood cells transport oxygen throughout the body. All major organs, such as the heart, rely on red blood cells for proper function.

Red blood cells.
Red blood cells.

A healthy body relies on the production of erythropoietin to keep it functioning properly. In order for red blood cells to form in the bone marrow, erythropoietin must be produced by the kidneys. In some cases, erythropoietin is not being produced, which is most often related to kidney disease. When the kidneys no longer release the hormone, then the bone marrow fails to produce new red blood cells. The process can quickly lead to anemia, a condition in which the body has a low red blood cell count.

Anemia quickly weakens the body, since a person relies on the energy derived from oxygen flowing throughout the bloodstream. When there is not enough oxygen in the body, a person can become fatigued easily, causing stress on the heart, lungs, and brain. Untreated anemia can worsen overtime and lead to diseases of the tissues and organs.

Since erythropoietin and anemia are interrelated, the treatments for erythropoietin deficiencies may also treat the anemia at the same time. Doctors recommend EPO injections for some patients with kidney disease in an effort to prevent anemia. The same treatment plan can also help some patients with anemia by helping the bone marrow produce enough red blood cells to deliver oxygen throughout the body.

There are other types of treatments that a doctor might recommend for an anemic patient, including iron and folic acid supplements. Patients who take these supplements might also take EPO injections, depending on the severity of their condition. Generally, a patient with kidney disease will need a combination of treatments to help to cure erythropoietin and anemia.

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