Background: The optimal haemoglobin concentration ([Hb]) for patients with end-stage renal failure is uncertain. In particular, it is unclear whether Hb normalization may be an advantage to such patients who are otherwise well.
Methods: A prospective, randomized, double-blind cross-over study was completed in 14 haemodialysis patients (12 male) aged between 23 and 65 years over a period of 18 months, using a variety of measures to examine the effect of epoetin at target [Hb] of 10 g/dl ([Hb](10)) and 14 g/dl ([Hb](14)). Patients were randomized to maintain one or other of the target levels for 6 weeks before being crossed over to the alternative [Hb]. Baseline data (mean [Hb]: 8.5+/-0.2 g/dl) were also included selectively. Six patients were known to be hypertensive. Comparisons were made between 24-h ambulatory blood pressure levels (ABP), echocardiographic findings and estimates of blood volume (BV), plasma volume (PV) and Hb mass. Quality of life estimates were obtained using the Sickness Impact Profile (SIP), and epoetin dosage requirements at target [Hb] were assessed.
Results: Daytime and nocturnal ABP (systolic and diastolic) were not different at the respective target [Hb], although nocturnal diastolic levels were higher compared with baseline (73+/-4 mmHg) at both [Hb](10) (83+/-3, P:<0.01) and [Hb](14) (81+/-6, P:<0.05). Significant reductions in cardiac output (5.2+/-0.3 vs 6.6+/-0.5 l/min, P:<0.01) and left ventricular end-diastolic diameter (4.8+/-0.2 vs 5.2+/-0.2 cm, P:<0. 001) were found at [Hb](14) compared with [Hb](10). Left ventricular mass index was correlated with both PV (P:<0.001) and BV (P:<0.01), but not with Hb mass. The PV decreased as the [Hb] rose (P:<0.001) but BV remained unchanged. Quality of life was significantly improved at [Hb](14) compared with [Hb](10) for both total score (6. 5+/-1.7 vs 13.4+/-3.0, P:=0.01) and psychosocial dimension score (5. 4+/-1.9 vs 15.4+/-4.0, P:<0.01). The maintenance weekly dose of epoetin required was 80% higher at [Hb](14) compared with [Hb](10) (P:<0.001).
Conclusion: These data suggest there may be a significant haemodynamic and symptomatic advantage in maintaining a physiological [Hb] in haemodialysis patients. Although untoward effects were not identified in this study at [Hb](14), a substantially higher dose of epoetin is required to maintain this level.