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Chronic Kidney Disease and Your Heart

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and stroke is the fourth leading cause. Both of these conditions are caused by cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is common in people with chronic kidney disease (CKD) regardless of age, stage of kidney disease or if they’ve had a transplant. In addition, underlying conditions that cause renal disease, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, put people at risk for cardiovascular disease.

What is cardiovascular disease?

The heart pumps oxygen and nutrient-rich blood through the arteries to vital organs, including your brain and tissues. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is an umbrella term used to describe conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels (also known as the vascular system).

The following conditions are considered heart disease:

Coronary artery disease: This disease affects the arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood. If these arteries become blocked and the flow of blood is restricted to the heart, a heart attack may occur.

Heart attack: A heart attack occurs when a coronary artery, which carries blood and oxygen to one section of the heart muscle, is blocked.

Heart failure: If a heart cannot pump enough blood, heart failure may occur.

The following types of cardiovascular diseases that affect the blood vessels may impact people with renal disease:

Atherosclerosis: When arteries become clogged with an accumulation of cholesterol, fat and calcium (also known as plaque), this can lead to atherosclerosis. A stroke or heart attack can occur if the accumulation of plaque is thick and the artery becomes so clogged that blood cannot get through it.

High blood pressure: High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) occurs when blood is pushed through the arteries at an increased pressure. This may cause stroke or heart attack.

CKD and the risk of cardiovascular disease

The following are complications that develop from renal disease and can lead to cardiovascular disease:

Anemia: Anemia is when your body does not have enough red blood cells. The kidneys manufacture a hormone called erythropoietin, which tells the bone marrow to make more red blood cells. If your kidneys are damaged, your erythropoietin levels can fall, and your body will not make enough red blood cells.

Fewer red blood cells mean less oxygen goes to the body’s tissues and organs, and a person may be susceptible to a heart attack.

High blood pressure: The kidneys make renin, which is an enzyme that helps control blood pressure. Damaged kidneys may release too much renin, which can lead to high blood pressure and may  increase the risk of heart attack, congestive heart failure and stroke.

High homocysteine levels: Damaged kidneys cannot remove extra homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood. High levels of homocysteine  can lead to coronary artery disease, stroke and heart attack.

Calcium-phosphate levels: Damaged kidneys cannot keep calcium and phosphorus levels in balance. Often, there’s too much phosphorus and calcium in the blood. When this happens, there’s a risk for coronary artery disease.

Diabetes and high blood pressure are the two leading causes of kidney disease. Here is how each can affect your heart and lead to cardiovascular disease:

Diabetes: Diabetes is a condition where excess sugar remains in the bloodstream and can damage the blood vessels in the kidneys and elsewhere in the body.

High blood pressure: Not only is high blood pressure a complication from diabetes, it’s also a cause of kidney disease. Too much pressure can weaken the walls of the blood vessels, which can lead to a stroke.

Treating cardiovascular disease in people with kidney disease

Your kidney doctor will monitor the health of your kidneys and check for signs of cardiovascular disease. Part of your treatment program may include taking certain medications to treat complications, such as anemia and high blood pressure, as well as treating any calcium or phosphorus imbalances in the body. Your doctor will also refer you to a renal dietitian, who will work with you to create a kidney-friendly and heart-friendly diet.

Your doctor may also recommend exercise as part of your treatment program. If you smoke, your doctor will recommend that you stop. Smoking may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, and can cause other complications.  

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or diagnosis from a physician. Please check with a physician if you need a diagnosis and/or treatments as well as information regarding your specific condition. If you are experiencing urgent medical conditions, please call 9-1-1.

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