Safety and efficacy of erythropoiesis-stimulating agents in critically ill patients admitted to the intensive care unit: a systematic review and meta-analysis

  • Edward LittonEmail author
  • Peter Latham
  • Julia Inman
  • Jingjing Luo
  • Peter Allan
Systematic Review



Severe immune dysregulation is common in patients admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) and is associated with adverse outcomes. Erythropoietin-stimulating agents (ESAs) have immune-modulating and anti-apoptotic effects. However, their safety and efficacy in critically ill patients remain uncertain. We evaluated whether ESAs, administered to critically unwell adult patients admitted to the ICU, reduced mortality at hospital discharge.


The search strategy was conducted according to a predetermined protocol and included OVID MEDLINE, OVID EMBASE and The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials from inception until 20 May 2019. Publications were eligible for inclusion if they were randomized controlled trials (RCTs) including adult patients admitted to an ICU, that identified and reported a group receiving ESA therapy compared to a group not receiving ESA therapy and reported mortality. There were no language restrictions.


The systematic review included 21 studies with 5452 participants. In-hospital mortality, reported in 16 studies of which only one was at low risk of bias, was lower in the ESA group (276 of 2187 patients, 12.6%) than the comparator group (339 out of 2204 patients, 15.4%), [relative risk (RR) 0.82, 95% CI 0.71–0.94, P = 0.006, I2 = 0.0%]. The RR of SAEs and thromboembolic events for the ESA and comparator groups were similar, RR 1.11 (95% CI 0.94–1.31, P = 0.228, I2 66%) and 1.22 (95% CI 0.95–1.58, P = 0.086, I2 47%), respectively.


In heterogenous populations of critically ill adults, evidence from RCTs of mainly low or unclear quality, suggests that ESA therapy may decrease mortality.


Erythropoiesis-stimulating agents Critical care Immunomodulation 



The investigators would like to thank all the authors of the primary research material and in particular Profs Nichol, Robertson and Silver who provided additional data or clarification of their work. The authors would also like to thank the South Metropolitan Health Service Library and Information Service for their assistance and advice. Edward Litton is supported by a National Health and Medical Research Foundation Early Career Fellowship. This work was not supported by any other funding.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflicts of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interests in relation to this manuscript.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOC 5250 kb)
134_2019_5686_MOESM2_ESM.doc (56 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOC 55 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Intensive Care UnitSt John of God Hospital SubiacoPerthAustralia
  2. 2.School of MedicineUniversity of Western AustraliaPerthAustralia
  3. 3.Intensive Care UnitNoosa HospitalNoosavilleUSA
  4. 4.Fiona Stanley HospitalPerthAustralia
  5. 5.Department of AnaesthesiaRockingham General HospitalPerthAustralia
  6. 6.Intensive Care UnitFiona Stanley HospitalPerthAustralia

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