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 Kidney Disease Center Feature Story

Be Still My Beating Kidney?
Heart rate may be a marker for kidney health

Be Still My Beating Kidney? (HealthDay News) -- Though it might seem strange, the way your heart beats may provide clues to the future health of your kidneys.

People with a higher risk for kidney disease have been found to have a fast resting heart rate along with low variability between beats, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

Humans have two kidneys, each about the size of a clenched fist. The organs are responsible for filtering blood and waste from the body. Each day, the kidneys filter about 200 quarts of blood, according to the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. And, from all of that blood, the kidneys send about 2 quarts of waste products and water out of the body as urine.

Each kidney has millions of tiny filtering units (nephrons) that act like a sieve, allowing the waste and extra fluid to pass through and enter the urinary tract, according to the institute. It's usually damage to these tiny filtering units that causes kidney diseases. The two most common conditions that can cause damage to the kidneys are high blood pressure and diabetes.

But the study founds that the culprit may sometimes be the autonomic nervous system -- the part of the body that regulates involuntary body functions, such as heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and stress response. Previous research has suggested a link between the autonomic nervous system and chronic kidney disease.

Although the latest study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between autonomic dysfunction and kidney disease, its authors, including Dr. Daniel Brotman from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, theorized that problems in the autonomic nervous system could harm blood vessels around and in the kidneys.

The study included data on heart and kidney function for more than 13,000 Americans between 45 and 64 years old. The researchers found that people with a high resting heart rate had twice the risk for kidney failure later in life. People who had a low beat-to-beat variability had a 1.5 times increased risk for developing kidney failure.

"We hope our findings will encourage further research to better define the putative role of the autonomic nervous system in precipitating and exacerbating renal [kidney] disease in humans," the researchers wrote. "This, in turn, may ultimately lead to novel therapeutic approaches once the mechanisms for our findings are better characterized."

Signs of chronic kidney disease include:

  • A change in the frequency of urination
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Swelling in the hands and feet
  • Feeling itchy or numb
  • Darkened skin
  • Muscle cramps
However, people can have chronic kidney disease for years before any symptoms become apparent, according to the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

On the Web

To find out if you're at risk for kidney disease, check out information from the National Kidney Disease Education Program.

SOURCES: HealthDay News;American Society of Nephrology, news release, July 8, 2010; National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse (www.kidney.niddk.nih.gov)

Author: Serena Gordon

Publication Date: July 31, 2011


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