Anemia, kidney disease and your heart: It’s time to have the conversation

Your kidneys perform many necessary functions in your body, in addition to filtering waste and extra fluid. For instance, your kidneys produce hormones that regulate your blood pressure and help your body make red blood cells—both of which affect your heart.

Anemia flow chart

When you have chronic kidney disease (CKD) and your kidneys cannot perform their important functions properly, you may develop anemia, a common condition that happens when there are not enough red blood cells in your body. Kidney disease puts stress on your entire cardiovascular system, which includes your heart, blood and blood vessels. Over time, CKD can severely impact all three and can ultimately lead to heart failure. Heart disease is a leading cause of death among people with kidney disease and is the top cause of death for those on dialysis. Anemia also increases the risk of heart disease and can make kidney disease worse.

February is American Heart Month, and the American Kidney Fund (AKF) is recognizing the important connection between CKD and heart disease by sharing the results of our nationwide survey of kidney patients and renal medical practitioners. We explored patients’ awareness and understanding of anemia, as well as practitioners’ perceptions of their patients’ understanding. We’ll use the findings to help guide our ongoing anemia education efforts through our ACT on Anemia campaign.

We found that 99% of practitioners (nephrologists, nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants) believe anemia is a significant health issue for dialysis patients. Despite this, nearly 1 in 5 dialysis and transplant patients could not recall having a conversation with their practitioner about anemia, nor did they understand the relationship between anemia and kidney disease. Just 37% of patients said a practitioner discussed anemia treatment options with them. Of the patients who did discuss treatment options with a practitioner, 73% understood why they were being treated for anemia, compared to only 42% of those who did not have that discussion.

Those statistics are a cause for concern.

Given the high rates of anemia among kidney patients, it is important that patients have a full understanding of anemia and be empowered to actively make decisions about their anemia treatments. We were encouraged to find that anemia is being discussed between kidney patients and their practitioners, but it’s clear from our survey results that we must all do better to improve communication. If you are concerned about anemia or want to learn more, we have developed a guide on how to talk with your doctor about anemia. You can also watch this archive of our recent webinar, “Tips for talking with your doctor,” which lets patients know how to start a conversation about your health and what questions you should ask at every visit.

To see all the findings of our patient and practitioner anemia survey, visit our survey results page to download the full report.

Remember: your kidneys and heart are interconnected, and kidney disease, heart disease and anemia are all related. So, if you have kidney disease, talk to your doctor about treatments for anemia and ways to protect your heart.

To learn more about the connection between anemia and kidney disease, check out ACT on Anemia. To learn more about the ways kidney disease affects your heart, view our infographic.

Ashley Ring is the Associate Director of Public Education and Urooj Fatima is the Public Education Coordinator at the American Kidney Fund.

Posted: | Author: Ashley Ring, MPH and Urooj Fatima

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