Heart Complications Caused by Untreated Kidney Disease

“If you're able to catch them early, there are many things that we can do to modify the risk.”

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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

Find out more about the link between kidney disease and heart disease.

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.