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Smoking and Chronic Kidney Disease

For many decades, the U.S. Surgeon General has warned Americans about the ill effects from smoking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking harms nearly every organ of the body. Therefore, it is not surprising to learn that smoking also plays a role in the progression of chronic kidney disease (CKD). The first study that showed the connection between smoking and kidney disease was done in 1978. Since then many studies have supported this finding.

According to the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial (MRFIT), smoking is one of the leading risk factors that can lead to end stage renal disease (ESRD).

How smoking can harm kidneys

Here are some of the possible ways smoking is thought to harm kidneys:

  • Increases blood pressure and heart rate
  • Reduces blood flow in the kidneys
  • Increases production of angiotensin II (a hormone produced in kidney)
  • Narrows the blood vessels in the kidneys
  • Damages arterioles (branches of arteries)
  • Forms arteriosclerosis (thickening and hardening) of the renal arteries
  • Accelerates loss of kidney function

In addition to tobacco, smoking allows other toxins into the body. And according to the American Association of Kidney Patients (AAKP), studies have shown that smoking is harmful for the kidneys, and can cause kidney disease to progress and increases the risk for proteinuria (excessive amount of protein in the urine).

Diabetes, high blood pressure and chronic kidney disease

Diabetes and high blood pressure are the two leading causes of CKD. Studies have found that people with diabetes and/or high blood pressure who smoke add to the risk of getting CKD. In both groups smoking increased the chances of getting renal disease. Smoking also accelerated the occurrence of kidney disease. Stopping smoking was shown to help a person maintain kidney function.

Heart disease and smoking

For people with kidney disease who smoke, stopping may be the one most important thing they can do to slow the progression of both kidney and heart failure.

For people who have had a kidney transplant and not stopped smoking, their chances of survival decrease due to the risk of cardiovascular problems. The best way to a successful transplant outcome is to stop smoking.

Smoking even hurts healthy kidneys

According to information from the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial, men in the general population, who don’t have kidney disease, are at an increased risk for getting end stage renal disease if they are smokers. The risk gets even higher for heavy smokers. Cigarette smoking has been called the most preventable risk factor for maintaining good health. Studies show that in addition to heart disease, cancer and the other diseases attributed to smoking, it has also contributed to renal failure among those who were not kidney disease patients.

Tips to stop smoking

Since the number of cigarettes smoked tend to increase the risks for renal failure, cutting down may be helpful. Ideally, however, quitting would be the best option. While quitting is difficult due to nicotine addiction, cravings and temptations, there are steps to help you succeed in not smoking. Sometimes it takes a few tries to stop smoking completely, but it’s worth the effort to become smoke free.

  • Talk to your doctor about nicotine-replacement therapies like gums and patches, as well as medicines such as Zyban to help you.
  • Give yourself a quit date and throw out all tobacco products.
  • Have a strategy for helping you overcome cravings:
    • Chew gum, suck on hard candy, nibble on low-calorie snacks throughout the day or make your meals last longer.
    • Call a telephone-quit line, check websites or talk to friends and family members for support.
    • Try deep breathing or meditation until the urge passes.
  • Join a quit-smoking program.
  • Keep trying until you quit.