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ACP Guidelines on Treatment of Anemia in Patients With Heart Disease


Clinical question

How should anemia and iron deficiency be treated in adults with heart disease?

Bottom line

For hospitalized patients with anemia and coronary heart disease, the American College of Physicians recommends a restrictive transfusion strategy and a trigger hemoglobin of 7 g/dL to 8 g/dL. Furthermore, erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs) should be avoided in patients with coronary heart disease or congestive heart failure and mild to moderate anemia. Evidence regarding intravenous iron for this patient population is inconclusive. (LOE = 1a)


Kansagara D, Dyer E, Englander H, Fu R, Freeman M, Kagen D. Treatment of anemia in patients with heart disease: A systematic review. Ann Intern Med 2013;159(11):746-757. Qaseem A, Humphrey LL, Fitterman N, Starkey M, Shekelle P; Clinical Guidelines Committee of the American College of Physicians. Treatment of anemia in patients with heart disease: A clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med 2013;159(11):770-779.

Study design

Practice guideline

Funding source





Various (meta-analysis)


The American College of Physicians developed this guideline based on a systematic review of the literature that evaluated the benefits and harms of anemia treatment in adults with heart disease. The authors searched multiple databases including MEDLINE and the Cochrane Library, to identify trials that studied the effects of blood transfusions, ESAs, and iron in patients with anemia and congestive heart failure or coronary heart disease. Observational transfusion studies were also included. Two reviewers independently assessed studies for inclusion, extracted data, and assessed study quality. Data was combined for meta-analysis when possible. Although it was low-quality evidence, liberal transfusion strategies as compared with restrictive strategies in treating anemia showed no effect on mortality for patients with heart disease. Moderate-strength to high-strength evidence from the ESA studies also showed no benefit, but did show a potential for harm, including an increased risk of venous thromboembolism. Finally, although few studies evaluated intravenous iron therapy, one good-quality study showed that it increased short-term exercise tolerance and quality of life in patients with heart failure. Based on these findings, the American College of Physicians guideline committee makes the following recommendations: (1) Use a restrictive red blood cell transfusion strategy with a hemoglobin threshold of 7 g/dL to 8 g/dL in hospitalized patients with coronary heart disease; and (2) avoid ESAs in patients with mild to moderate anemia and congestive heart failure or coronary heart disease. Because of lack of evidence regarding long-term outcomes and possible harms, as well as limited overall data, there was no recommendation made regarding the use of intravenous iron.

Dr. Kulkarni is an assistant professor of hospital medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago.

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