Background: The efficacy of erythropoietin-stimulating agents (ESAs) for improving health-related quality of life (HRQOL) in anemia of chronic kidney disease (CKD) is unclear.
Purpose: To determine the effect of ESAs on HRQOL at different hemoglobin targets in adults with CKD who were receiving or not receiving dialysis.
Data sources: Searches of PubMed, EMBASE, the Cochrane Library, and ClinicalTrials.gov from inception to 1 November 2015, supplemented with manual screening.
Study selection: Randomized, controlled trials that evaluated the treatment of anemia with ESAs, including erythropoietin and darbepoetin, targeted higher versus lower hemoglobin levels, and used validated HRQOL metrics.
Data extraction: Study characteristics, quality, and data were assessed independently by 2 reviewers. Outcome measures were scores on the Short Form-36 Health Survey (SF-36), Kidney Dialysis Questionnaire (KDQ), and other tools.
Data synthesis: Of 17 eligible studies, 13 reported SF-36 outcomes and 4 reported KDQ outcomes. Study populations consisted of patients not undergoing dialysis (n = 12), those undergoing dialysis (n = 4), or a mixed sample (n = 1). Only 4 studies had low risk of bias. Pooled analyses showed that higher hemoglobin targets resulted in no statistically or clinically significant differences in SF-36 or KDQ domains. Differences in HRQOL were further attenuated in studies at low risk of bias and in subgroups of dialysis recipients.
Limitation: Statistically significant heterogeneity among studies, few good-quality studies, and possible publication bias.
Conclusion: ESA treatment of anemia to obtain higher hemoglobin targets does not result in important differences in HRQOL in patients with CKD.
Primary funding source: KRESCENT and Manitoba Health Research Council Establishment.