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Kidney Int. 2004 Sep;66(3):1206-11.

Interpretation of erythropoietin levels in patients with various degrees of renal insufficiency and anemia.

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Division of Nephrology, Institute of Clinical Chemistry and Hematology, Kantonsspital St. Gallen, Switzerland.



Chronic renal failure leads to hyporegenerative anemia due to erythropoietin deficiency. The creatinine clearance and hemoglobin levels, at which anemia treatment with recombinant erythropoietin should be started, are unclear. Interpretation of serum erythropoietin levels in the context of renal insufficiency remains controversial and was addressed in this study.


Three hundred and ninety-five patients were randomly chosen out of over 5000 consecutive patients investigated by coronary angiography at a single center between 1997 and 2001. Laboratory values and clinical information were prospectively collected in a central registry. Serum samples were frozen before angiography and now used to measure serum erythropoietin levels and evaluate the relationship between erythropoietin and hemoglobin levels in the context of various degrees of renal insufficiency.


The patients with the lowest renal function (creatinine clearance <20 mL/min) had significantly lower hemoglobin levels than the group with normal renal function. However, erythropoietin levels were identical indicating a lower set point for erythropoietin regulation. Above a creatinine clearance of 40 mL/min a significant inverse correlation between erythropoietin and hemoglobin levels was observed and described with the formula erythropoietin [U/L]= 2.5 x (140 - hemoglobin [g/L]) or alternatively Deltaerythropoietin (U/L) =-2.5 xDeltahemoglobin (g/L). Below 40 mL/min no significant correlation was found.


A cut-off level for an altered set point of erythropoietin regulation was determined at 40 mL/min creatinine clearance. Above this cut-off hemoglobin negatively regulates erythropoietin. Below the cut-off erythropoietin levels remain stable. Pathophysiologic concepts for this finding and clinical implications in patients with moderate renal failure are discussed.

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