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Heart Attack and Chronic Kidney Disease

By Lia Tremblay

Updated November 04, 2008

(LifeWire) - Chronic kidney disease (CKD) causes the kidneys to be damaged in an irreversible way. As a result, these important organs can no longer work efficiently to regulate how water is distributed throughout the body's tissues and act as a filter to protect the body from toxins. CKD is a serious problem that can be caused by diabetes, high blood pressure and other medical conditions. But those with CKD are actually more likely to die from complications caused by cardiovascular disease, which can include heart attack and stroke, than from kidney failure.

The CDK/Cardiovascular Disease Connection

CKD and cardiovascular disease share two major risk factors -- diabetes and high blood pressure. Both can damage the blood vessels in the kidney, preventing it from properly eliminating fluid from the body. Excess fluid contributes to higher blood pressure, which leads to more blood-vessel damage -- a continuing cycle of damage.

Sometimes complications caused by CKD can also make cardiovascular disease more likely. They include:

  • Excess calcium or phosphorus in the blood, which can stiffen and narrow the blood vessels
  • High homocysteine levels, which some evidence suggests can damage artery walls and encourage dangerous clots
  • Systemic inflammation, which is inflammation that's not in just one part of the body but has spread generally and can lead to heart attacks and strokes

CKD patients are also prone to anemia, which is a lowering of the blood's red cell count. Prolonged anemia can cause the heart to develop a left ventricular hypertrophy, which means the muscle on the left side of the heart becomes abnormally thick. This can lead to congestive heart failure.

Since even a minor loss of kidney function can drastically increase the danger of damaging the heart, a stroke, heart attack or other cardiovascular problem sometimes occurs before the CKD is even diagnosed.

Reducing Your Heart Risk

Because of the close connection between CKD and cardiovascular disease, much of what your doctor recommends to control your CKD will also lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.

  • Get some exercise. Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day may help to improve your cholesterol, maintain a healthy weight and lower blood pressure.
  • Avoid cigarette smoking and smoke. Second-hand smoke is dangerous, too.
  • Change your diet. Choose low-cholesterol foods and avoid trans fats. Get more fiber by eating plenty of vegetables and whole grains.
  • Control your blood sugar if you have diabetes. Check your blood sugar level often and stick to the diet your doctor recommends.
  • Talk to your doctor about other measures. You might need medication or a more specialized diet and exercise plan, especially if you have other risk factors, like diabetes.


"Cholesterol and Chronic Kidney Disease." kidney.org. 2008. National Kidney Foundation. 6 Oct. 2008 <http://www.kidney.org/kidneydisease/fs/showFS.cfm?id=55>.

"Chronic Kidney Disease: A Family Affair." kidney.niddk.nih.gov. March 2005. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. 6 Oct. 2008 <http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/chronickidneydiseases/>.

"Diabetes, Kidney and Cardiovascular Disease." americanheart.org. 2008. American Heart Association. 6 Oct. 2008 <http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3044857>.

"The Kidney and Heart Disease Connection." asn-online.org. 2008. The American Society of Nephrology. 6 Oct. 2008 <http://www.asn-online.org/facts_and_statistics/asn-kidney-heart.pdf>.

LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content.  Lia Tremblay is a freelance writer and editor specializing in consumer healthcare topics. She lives and works in Virginia.

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