Patients with renal insufficiency commonly develop anemia due to low erythropoietin, or EPO, levels. EPO is a hormone that healthy kidneys produce and that causes the bone marrow to make red blood cells, according to the American Kidney Fund. Without sufficient EPO, the bone marrow does not make enough red blood cells, leading to anemia. When anemia is the result of low EPO, doctors treat it with erythropoietin-stimulating agent, a man-made version of the EPO hormone.
Most people with kidney disease develop anemia, and it grows worse as the kidneys fail, reports the National Kidney Foundation. It is especially common in patients who are diabetic, and in African-Americans or females. In addition to ESA, doctors may also prescribe iron supplements to treat anemia. ESA treatment may not work well without iron and may even increase the body's need for iron.
Red blood cells carry oxygen to all parts of the body, explains the American Kidney Fund. When a person is anemic, there are not enough healthy red blood cells to provide sufficient oxygen to the body's tissues and organs. In addition to kidney disease, other causes of anemia include low iron levels, poor diet or loss of blood. Symptoms can include fatigue, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, weakness and headaches.