Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a major health problem in the United States, impacting more than 25 million Americans, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Kidneys perform many important functions in the body, including regulating and controlling the production of red blood cells. When kidneys are not fully functioning, the production of red blood cells can decline and cause anemia in many CKD patients. A major cause of this anemia is iron deficiency. In fact, according to the U.S. Census and National Institutes of Health, there are more than 1.6 million CKD patients in the United States living with iron deficiency anemia, commonly referred to as IDA.
Iron matters for CKD patients because it is necessary for the production of healthy red blood cells. Unfortunately, IDA often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed and is, therefore, left untreated, which leaves patients living with the chronic symptoms of anemia. Extreme fatigue is just one of the major consequences of IDA. CKD patients with IDA may also suffer from dizziness, headaches, coldness in hands and feet, shortness of breath and frequent infections, among other symptoms.
“Because I have chronic kidney disease, I need to have my iron levels checked regularly. When I was first diagnosed with IDA, my biggest symptoms were extreme fatigue and sluggishness,” said James Cann, a CKD patient from Baltimore, Md. who was diagnosed with IDA three years ago. “People who are diagnosed with IDA should talk to their doctors about the many treatment options available. No one should have to suffer the terrible effects of IDA.”
The good news about iron deficiency anemia is that, once it is diagnosed, it can be treated. There are several treatment options available for patients with chronic kidney disease and IDA, and there are guidelines that help set a clear path for treatment. Most CKD patients with IDA will be prescribed oral iron. However, because many patients with CKD experience reduced iron absorption due to inflammation, treatment guidelines supported by the International Society of Nephrology recommend that physicians try oral iron in their CKD patients for one to three months, and if the patients anemia does not resolve, that they move the patient to IV iron.
“Patients with chronic kidney disease typically will develop iron deficiency anemia as their kidney disease progresses,” said Michael Auerbach, M.D., clinical professor of medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine and a practicing hematologist. “It is very important to keep anemia in check for the overall health and wellbeing of the patient. National Kidney Month in March serves as a good reminder for patients to talk to their doctor about symptoms and treatment options for CKD-related anemia.”
With more than 25 million Americans estimated to have CKD, there are some simple ways to take charge of your health. Maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise and proper nutrition are important for everyone’s overall health. But if you have CKD and are feeling exceptionally fatigued or have other signs of iron deficiency anemia, you should talk to your doctor who can determine if you have IDA. You and your doctor will decide the treatment option that is best for you.