Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is characterised by reduced erythropoietin production and anaemia. The introduction in the late 1980s of recombinant human erythropoietin transformed the quality of life and the blood transfusion requirements of patients with advanced CKD, and several erythropoietin analogues or derivatives with the collective name of erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs) are now available. However, despite the treatment of hundreds of thousands of patients with ESAs there have still been relatively few randomised controlled trials comparing outcomes at pre-specified haemoglobin (Hb) concentrations. Several unanswered questions remain regarding the optimal use of ESAs, including the ideal target Hb level for an individual and a CKD population. The conclusion from the available interventional studies is that there is no evidence for a beneficial effect of complete correction of Hb and there is weak evidence of harm with an increase in cardiovascular events and mortality. This has prompted some renal advisory bodies to modify their guidance on ESA prescribing. This critique reviews current clinical guidelines and recommendations, their scientific basis, and identifies areas of controversy including the role of newer agents, the long-term safety of ESAs, the influence of the pharmaceutical industry, and the associated healthcare costs.
Copyright 2008 S. Karger AG, Basel.