There is a strong connection between heart disease and kidney disease. One cardiovascular condition alone, high blood pressure (hypertension), is the second leading cause of kidney failure. Conversely, kidney disease contributed to 1.2 million cardiovascular deaths in 2013, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Because of a lack of symptoms, kidney disease has been called a “hidden epidemic.” Hypertension has been called the “silent killer” for the same reason.
The kidneys and the heart serve each other
The kidneys serve the body in several very important ways. The two kidneys are located below the rib cage on opposite sides of the spine. Properly working kidneys contribute to overall health by removing waste and excess fluid and helping keep blood pressure at proper levels. To regulate blood pressure, the kidneys create a hormone called aldosterone. The kidneys also manufacture red blood cells, keep bones healthy and keep the pH level, which balances the production of acid, in control. Additionally, kidneys help the blood maintain proper amounts of certain minerals and nutrients.
The heart serves all organs of the body by pumping blood that sends oxygen to all of them, including the kidneys. One of the functions of the kidneys is to clean the blood by removing waste products and excess water. The healthier the cardiovascular system is, the more productive the kidneys will be in properly serving the body.
Damaged kidneys are bad for the heart
People with kidney disease become much more susceptible to heart disease for several reasons. If the kidneys are not working properly, waste and unnecessary fluids build up instead of being removed. The extra fluid can cause an increase in blood pressure that is dangerous for the heart. When kidney function is impaired, damage to the cardiovascular system can result not only in high blood pressure but in heart disease and stroke.
By the same token, high blood pressure can impair kidney function because blood vessels stretch and scars can appear, weakening them in the kidneys and throughout the body. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can also cause arteries around the kidneys to become hardened or narrow.
The issue of limited symptoms
Since hypertension and kidney disease are notoriously known for few, if any, symptoms, regular physical check-ups are important to monitor the existence of either one. However, while kidney disease in its early stages may not reveal itself, as the disease progresses, some symptoms may appear. They include edema, a swelling caused by the kidneys’ inability to get rid of excess fluid and salt. Also, appetite loss, a change in urination frequency, drowsiness or nausea may be signs that kidney disease is becoming more intense.
High blood pressure is measured in regular physical examinations by a physician or cardiologist. Blood pressure readings of 120/80, systolic over diastolic readings, are considered optimum. Methods of detecting kidney disease include urine tests and blood tests. The blood tests reveal the amount of blood being filtered by the kidneys each minute. This is called the estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR). Urine tests are used to detect a protein called Albumin. When kidneys are damaged, Albumin appears in the blood stream.
Preventing high blood pressure and kidney disease
Many of the same recommendations for the prevention of hypertension serve equally well in lowering the risk of kidney disease. A healthy diet is imperative. Avoiding foods and beverages with excess sugar and salt should be avoided and replaced with fruits, whole grains and vegetables. The addition of fish containing omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, to the diet is recommended. Stopping smoking and managing stress also reduce the risk of high blood pressure.
Proper exercise is important for good health and has definite benefits for the cardiovascular system and the kidneys. Moderate exercise, such as walking, can help, and 150 minutes per week is recommended by the AHA. Any diet or exercise regimen should be discussed with a physician or cardiologist.
To learn more about the relationship between heart disease and kidney disease, log on to vascularhealthclinics.org.