The strong association between anemia and cardiovascular complications among patients with end-stage renal disease suggests that anemia during chronic renal insufficiency (CRI) may also have important consequences. We performed a retrospective cohort study to identify factors associated with severe anemia (hematocrit [Hct] < 30%) and examine anemia management practices in CRI. The CRI cohort was composed of 604 adult patients with elevated serum creatinine levels. There was a direct correlation between predicted glomerular filtration rate and Hct (r = 0.49) and an inverse correlation between serum creatinine level and Hct (r = -0.37). Anemia was noted early in CRI; 45% of patients with serum creatinine levels of 2 mg/dL or less had an Hct less than 36%, and 8% had an Hct less than 30%. During the course of the study, mean Hct decreased from 35.1% +/- 5.6% to 31.8% +/- 5.6%. Iron studies were obtained in only 19% of patients, and among these, the prevalence of iron deficiency (transferrin saturation < 20%) was 54%. Only 30% and 26% of patients were administered recombinant human erythropoietin (rHuEPO) and iron, respectively. Multivariate analyses showed that diabetes as the cause of renal disease, greater serum creatinine level, and having a single nephrology visit were associated with greater odds for the presence of anemia. A lower Hct and having a single nephrology visit were associated with greater odds for rHuEPO use. These results show that anemia begins early in the course of CRI, and management of anemia is suboptimal, even among patients under the care of nephrologists. Educational programs to optimize anemia management among patients with CRI are needed.