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Erythropoietin (EPO)

About your medicine

Many patients with kidney failure have a condition called anaemia. This means that they have a lack of red blood cells in their body.

Blood is made up of a liquid part and small particles called cells. These cells can be red or white. Red cells carry oxygen around the body. Measuring the level of something called haemoglobin in the blood gives a guide as to the number of red cells and whether a person is anaemic.

One of the jobs the kidneys do is to manage the production of red blood cells in the body. To do this they make a substance called erythropoietin (EPO). When someone’s kidneys do not work, the kidneys produce less EPO and so the person becomes anaemic.

The drug erythropoietin is an artificial version of this hormone which can boost the body to make red blood cells. Nearly half the people on dialysis take this drug. Some of the drugs are also called ESA (erythropoeisis stimulating agent).

 

There are several different makes of the drug, these include:

  • Eporatio
  • Neo-Recormon
  • Aranesp
  • Mircera
  • Binocrit
  • Retacrit

It does not matter which make you receive though you should not switch between brands without careful supervision. Each of the makes is available as different preparations for example pre-filled ‘pens’ or ‘vials’; Your doctor, specialist nurse or pharmacist can help you to decide which sort suits you best.

Taking your medicine

EPO needs to be given by injection through the skin. You will be taught how to inject yourself with EPO.

The dose varies from person to person. The doctors will use the level of haemoglobin in the blood to decide which dose to use. It is usual to inject a dose once, twice or three times a week. Once stable you may find you only need to inject every two weeks or every month.

Unwanted effects

As with all medicines, some people may suffer side effects. EPO may cause your blood pressure to rise especially at the beginning of treatment. It is important that your blood pressure is monitored.

Storing your medicine

Keep your medicines away from children. EPO needs to be kept in the fridge in its original container until it is time to be injected.

You should take the dose as recommended by your doctor. You will need regular blood tests to make sure that you are prescribed the correct dose.


The National Kidney Federation cannot accept responsibility for information provided. The above is for guidance only. Patients are advised to seek further information from their own doctor.

NKF Controlled Document No. 80: Erythropoietin (EPO) written: 22/04/2000 last reviewed: 05/05/2014