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Anemia Drug May Raise Stroke Risk in Kidney Patients
Date:10/31/2009

Use of Aranesp should be reserved for the most seriously ill, experts say

SATURDAY, Oct. 31 (HealthDay News) -- A drug designed to fight anemia appears to double the risk of stroke in patients with diabetes and kidney disease without substantially improving their quality of life, a new study finds.

Darbepoetin alfa, marketed as Aranesp and known as an erythropoiesis-stimulating agent (ESA), is often prescribed for diabetic patients with chronic kidney disease and mild anemia.

"The benefits we assumed we would have by treating anemia were less striking and the risks were more striking," said lead researcher Dr. Marc A. Pfeffer, a professor of medicine in the cardiovascular division of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

"This provides new data for doctors and patients to make their own risk-benefit assessment," he said. "There was a perception that treating anemia would make people feel so much better that we'll take risks, but the benefit in quality of life was not as great as we thought, and there was a clear doubling of your risk for a stroke."

The report was published in the Oct. 30 online edition of the New England Journal of Medicine to coincide with its scheduled presentation at the annual meeting of the American Society of Nephrology in San Diego.

For the study, Pfeffer's team randomly assigned more than 4,000 patients with diabetes, chronic kidney disease and anemia to receive Aranesp or placebo. During the study, 632 patients receiving Aranesp died or suffered a cardiovascular event, compared to 602 of the patients receiving placebo.

As well, 101 patients taking Aranesp had a fatal or non-fatal stroke compared with 53 of the placebo patients, the researchers found. In addition, patients taking Aranesp reported only a modest improvement in their fatigue, the researchers noted.

In earlier studies, Aranesp and a similar drug, epoetin alfa, marketed as Proc
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