Pathogenesis and treatment of anaemia of chronic disease

Blood Rev. 2002 Jun;16(2):87-96. doi: 10.1054/blre.2002.0193.


Anaemia of chronic disease (ACD), the most frequent anaemia among hospitalized patients, develops under chronic inflammatory disorders such as chronic infections, cancer or autoimmune diseases. A number of different pathways contribute to ACD, such as diversion of iron traffic, a diminished erythropoiesis, a blunted response to erythropoietin, erythrophagocytosis and bone marrow invasion by tumour cells and pathogens. Nevertheless, ACD is a reflection of an activated immune system and possibly results from an innovative defence strategy of the body in order to withdraw the essential growth factor iron from invading pathogens and to increase the efficacy of cell-mediated immunity. Diagnosis of ACD can be assessed by examination of chances in serum iron parameters with low to normal serum iron, transferrin saturation and transferrin concentrations on the one hand and normal to increased ferritin, zinc protoporphyrin IX and cytokine levels on the other side. Therapy of ACD includes the cure of the underlying the disease. Apart from this transfusions for rapid correction of haemoglobin levels, and human recombinant erythropoietin for prolonged therapy are used. However, response rates to recombinant erythropoietin are sometimes low. Iron alone should be strictly avoided due to its growth-promoting effect towards micro-organisms and tumour cells and because of it capacity to inhibit T-cell-mediated immune effector pathways. We urgently need prospective clinical trials to gain knowledge about the effects of anaemia correction and/or the use of erythropoietin towards the course of the underlying disease, to find out if a combination therapy with erythropoietin and iron may be beneficial in ACD and to define therapeutic end-points.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia / diagnosis
  • Anemia / etiology*
  • Anemia / therapy
  • Chronic Disease
  • Erythropoiesis
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular
  • Inflammation / complications
  • Iron Metabolism Disorders