Iron overload in renal failure patients: changes since the introduction of erythropoietin therapy

Kidney Int Suppl. 1999 Mar;69:S35-43. doi: 10.1046/j.1523-1755.1999.055suppl.69035.x.


Iron overload was a common complication in patients with chronic renal failure treated with dialysis prior to the availability of recombinant human erythropoietin (rHuEPO) therapy. Iron overload was the result of hypoproliferative erythroid marrow function coupled with the need for frequent red blood cell transfusions to manage symptomatic anemia. The repetitive use of intravenous iron with or without the use of red blood cell transfusions also contributed to iron loading and was associated with iron deposition in liver parenchymal and reticuloendothelial cells; however, there were no abnormal liver function tests or evidence of cirrhosis unless viral hepatitis resulted from the transfusions. With rHuEPO therapy, the excess iron stores were shifted back into circulating red blood cells as the anemia was partially corrected, and red blood cells were lost from circulation by the hemodialysis procedure. After several years of rHuEPO therapy, most hemodialysis patients required iron supplements to replace the continuing blood losses related to hemodialysis. The potential complications of iron overload (parenchymal iron deposition, permanent organ damage, increased risk of bacterial infections, and increased free radical generation) are reviewed in the context of this setting.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia / drug therapy
  • Anemia / etiology
  • Bacterial Infections / etiology
  • Erythropoietin / therapeutic use*
  • Free Radicals / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Iron / physiology
  • Iron Overload / complications
  • Iron Overload / etiology*
  • Iron Overload / physiopathology
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / complications*
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / drug therapy*
  • Recombinant Proteins


  • Free Radicals
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Erythropoietin
  • Iron