Anemia in Cardiovascular Disease: Marker of Disease Severity or Disease-modifying Therapeutic Target?

Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2021 Aug 10;23(10):61. doi: 10.1007/s11883-021-00960-1.


Purpose of the review: In this review paper, we examine the latest evidence regarding the use of iron supplementation, erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs), and blood transfusions as therapeutic targets for anemia to mitigate morbidity and mortality in patients with cardiovascular disease.

Recent findings: Intravenous ferric carboxymaltose (FC) injections in heart failure (HF) have resulted in improved self-reported patient symptoms; higher exercise capacity, as measured by 6-min walk test distance in anemic patients; and lower re-hospitalization rates in iron deficient patients. Darbepoetin alfa has shown evidence of improved Kansas City Cardiomyopathy Questionnaire scores. No mortality benefits have been noted thus far with FC injections or darbepoetin in HF, with an increase in adverse events with darbepoetin. Aggressive transfusions (Hg < 10 g/dL) are not associated with improved outcomes in cardiovascular disease. Quality of life metrics, rather than mortality, appear to improve with IV FC and ESA use in HF. More studies are required to see if these treatments have a role in coronary artery disease. Current evidence suggests that anemia is a marker of underlying disease severity, with a limited role in disease modification. Further studies are required to solidify our understanding of this topic.

Keywords: Anemia; Erythropoiesis-stimulating agents; Heart disease; Iron supplements; Red blood cell transfusions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia* / diagnosis
  • Anemia* / drug therapy
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Erythropoietin*
  • Humans
  • Quality of Life
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • Erythropoietin