“If you're able to catch them early, there are many things that we can do to modify the risk.”
Your heart and your kidneys have a closer relationship than you might think. Your kidneys depend on your heart for getting the oxygen and nutrients they need to run well, and your heart depends on the kidneys to filter out waste from the blood. As a result, kidney disease that goes untreated can lead to some serious cardiovascular complications.
“We know patients who have underlying kidney disease are at increased risk of developing heart disease. They're at increased risk of developing atherosclerosis, [and] they're at an increased risk of developing heart failure or heart dysfunction,” says Lawrence Phillips, MD, cardiologist at NYU Langone Health.
The Dangers of Untreated Kidney Disease
A diagnosis of chronic kidney disease means your kidneys aren’t properly filtering your blood. Normally, the kidneys filter out waste and extra fluid from the blood, which gets sent to the bladder as urine. When this doesn’t occur, that waste builds up in the body. Learn more about how the kidneys work here.
Chronic kidney disease has a unique link to heart health. High blood pressure can cause kidney disease, but it can also be the result of kidney disease. The latter is because kidneys release hormones that help regulate blood pressure. Damaged kidneys means poorer blood pressure control.
As chronic kidney disease progresses, it can have numerous effects on the body—especially the heart. Some examples of cardiovascular complications of untreated kidney disease include:
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Anemia (lack of red blood cells)
- Heart failure
Preventing Heart Complications
“I think both for kidney disease and heart disease, they're progressive disease processes,” says Dr. Phillips. “If you're able to catch them early, there are many things that we can do to modify the risk and avoid the progression.”
One of the most important things you can do if you have kidney disease is to monitor your blood pressure. This can not only potentially help slow the progression of your kidney disease, but may also mitigate any potential developing heart complications.
Dr. Phillips points out that many of the risk factors for both heart disease and kidney disease—such as high blood pressure, smoking, and high cholesterol—are modifiable. That means you’re not necessarily “doomed” to this pair of diseases. Learn more about how to lower your risk of kidney and heart damage here.
“By modifying your risk factors, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as your diabetes, you can have a beneficial effect on both the progression of kidney [disease], as well as heart disease,” says Dr. Phillips.
Lawrence Phillips, MD, is a cardiologist at NYU Langone Health. Dr. Phillips is the assistant professor of the Department of Medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the assistant clinical director for strategic affairs at Leon H. Charney Division of Cardiology, the director of the Nuclear Cardiology Laboratory, the medical director for Outpatient Clinical Cardiology, and the associate director of the Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship Program.
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The kidneys and the heart are really connected
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very deeply when it comes to risk and disease progression.
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First and foremost, we know the high blood pressure
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is a tremendous risk factor for both of them,
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a progressive disease in both heart and kidney disease,
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and it's imperative that you have good control,
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especially when you've been diagnosed with a problem
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with either of them.
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We also know that there's a feedback loop that occurs
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between the heart and the kidneys,
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and what that means is that a change in one of them
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always impacts the other,
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so weakening of the heart can worsen kidney dysfunction.
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Kidney dysfunction can worsen
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and increase the risk of heart attacks.
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Risk factors for the development of both heart disease
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as well as kidney disease include high blood pressure,
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diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity,
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as well as general risk factors we think about, such as diet.
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Most of these are modifiable,
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so by modifying your risk factors,
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such as high blood pressure and cholesterol,
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as well as your diabetes,
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you can have a beneficial effect on both progression
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of kidney as well as heart disease.
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The worsening of your kidney function will increase
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your risk progressively of heart dysfunction,
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and that can be due to several factors.
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One factor is the blood pressure, which can be
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more difficult to control as the kidney function worsens.
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The second is anemia,
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so the kidneys are very involved in the production
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of blood cells, and if you don't have
enough red blood cells,
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it makes it harder to supply nutrients
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to the rest of the body, making the heart work harder,
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and eventually having problems.
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The third is that the electrolytes,
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the chemicals of the blood,
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are filtered through the kidneys, and if you're not able
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to appropriately handle them because of kidney disease,
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you can have problems with your heart function as well.
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Both for kidney disease and heart disease,
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they're progressive disease processes,
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so if you're able to catch them early,
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there are many things that we can do
to modify the risk
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and avoid the progression,
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and it takes a very close relationship between the patient
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and the doctor to do that, often with frequent checks
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and honest communication.
- Anemia in chronic kidney disease. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association. (Accessed on September 22, 2020)
- How high blood pressure can lead to kidney damage or failure. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association. (Accessed on September 22, 2020)
- Thomas R, Kanso A, Sedor JR. Chronic kidney disease and its complications. Prim Care. 2008 Jun;35(2):329-vii.
- What is chronic kidney disease? Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (Accessed on September 22, 2020)
- Your kidneys & how they work. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (Accessed on September 22, 2020)