To determine the possible association between anemia and clinical and echocardiographic cardiac disease, a cohort of 432 end-stage renal disease patients (261 on hemodialysis and 171 on peritoneal dialysis) who started dialysis therapy between 1982 and 1991 were followed prospectively for an average of 41 months. Baseline demographic, clinical, and echocardiographic assessments were performed, as well as monthly serial clinical and laboratory tests while the patients were on dialysis therapy. The mean (+/-SD) hemoglobin level during dialysis therapy was 8.8 +/- 1.5 g/dL. After adjusting for age, diabetes, and ischemic heart disease, as well as for blood pressure and serum albumin levels measured serially, each 1 g/dL decrease in mean hemoglobin was independently associated with the presence of left ventricular dilatation on repeat echocardiogram (odds ratio, 1.46; P = 0.018) and the development of de novo (relative risk [RR] = 1.28; P = 0.018) and recurrent (RR = 1.20; P = 0.046) cardiac failure. In addition, each 1 g/dL decrease in the mean hemoglobin level was independently associated with mortality while the patients were on dialysis therapy (RR = 1.14; P = 0.024). Anemia had no independent association with the development of ischemic heart disease while the patients were on dialysis therapy. Anemia, an easily reversible feature of end-stage renal disease, is an independent risk factor for clinical and echocardiographic cardiac disease, as well as mortality in end-stage renal disease patients.