Background: Treatment with recombinant human erythropoietin (rHuEPO) has been a major advance for the management of anemia in patients on hemodialysis. Therapy, however, is often observed to be associated with recurrent cyclic fluctuations in hemoglobin levels. The purpose of this analysis was to describe the phenomenology of hemoglobin cycling during rHuEPO treatment.
Methods: Data were analyzed for 281 hemodialysis patients treated at Winthrop-University Hospital Dialysis Centers between 1998 and 2003. Eligible patients' first full 1-year period with less than 10 hospital days was studied. Hemoglobin cycling (cycles with amplitude >1.5 g/dL and duration >8 weeks) and excursions (half of one full cycle) were analyzed.
Results: Greater than 90% of patients experienced hemoglobin cycling. The mean number of hemoglobin excursions was 3.1 +/- 1.1 per patient/year. The mean amplitude per hemoglobin excursion was 2.51 +/- 0.89 g/dL. The mean duration of hemoglobin excursions was 10.3 +/- 5.1 weeks. Factors associated with initiation of up excursions included increases in rHuEPO dose (84%), intravenous iron treatment initiation or increase in dose (27%), posthospital discharge (36%), factors associated with down excursions included rHuEPO dose hold (15%) or dose reduction (62%), infection (6%), discontinuation of intravenous iron therapy (5%), and hospitalization (14%). Patients with frequent hemoglobin cycling (>two full cycles per year) were characterized as being more responsive to rHuEPO [index of EPO responsiveness (ERI) 1036 +/- 659 compared to 1992 +/- 701 for other patients] (P = 0.02).
Conclusion: Hemoglobin cycling is a common occurrence in rHuEPO-treated hemodialysis patients. It is most closely associated with frequent rHuEPO dose changes, hospitalization, and iron treatment practices.