Our researchers prove link between kidney disease and heart disease

14 January 2016        

heart and kidney cartoon

Reductions in kidney function are directly linked to heart and blood vessel damage, according to new research from scientists in Birmingham funded by us.

The study, which was published in Hypertension, looked at healthy people who had chosen to donate a kidney to see if it resulted in any adverse changes in their heart and blood vessels after donation.

Kidney donation safe

The researchers found that, even in very healthy people, a small reduction in kidney function is associated with an enlarged left-side of the heart, which makes the heart stiffer and impairs its ability to contract. This shows the clear link between reductions in kidney function and cardiovascular disease and proves for the first time that the heart damage seen in people with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is a direct result of their reduced kidney function.

Dr William Moody, a BHF Research Fellow at Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the University of Birmingham, who worked on the study said: “It should be noted that the effects on the kidney donors were very small and no studies of people who have donated a kidney have shown a cardiovascular risk that is higher than that of the general population."

Chronic kidney disease

The results could, however, have significant consequences for people suffering with CKD. In England in 2008/09 there were over 1.5 million people registered with CKD, though it is expected that the actual number is much larger than this. People with CKD have impaired cardiac function to the extent that this is often the cause of premature death, although the mechanism is not clear. 

By demonstrating that in otherwise healthy people there is small but measurable heart and blood vessel damage following kidney donation, the researchers have shown that in patients with CKD, poor kidney function has a direct adverse effect on heart function. 

A major research effort is now needed to understand what the risk is and find measures to reduce it in patients with CKD, to prevent premature death.

Heart Matters magazine got expert advice on the link between the heart and kidneys. Read the article to find out more about the connection between these two vital organs.

What we think

Our Associate Medical Director, Professor Jeremy Pearson said: "By studying healthy kidney donors, this Birmingham team, supported by BHF funding, have been able to show convincingly for the first time that loss of kidney function has direct adverse effects on the heart, unrelated to changes in blood pressure."

"While the adverse effects in the kidney donors are small, the study suggests strongly that identification of the mechanisms involved could provide new avenues to reduce the progressive impairment of heart function seen in patients with chronic kidney disease. However it is important to note that these findings should not put anyone off donating a kidney, as those individuals are highly selected as healthy subjects and effects of kidney donation will still not even get them to an average risk level."

Support our life saving research

We need to fund more research like Dr William Moody's so that findings like this can be translated into new drugs for heart disease. 

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Heart Matters magazine got expert advice on the link between the heart and kidneys. Read the article to find out more about the connection between these two vital organs.
Heart Matters magazine got expert advice on the link between the heart and kidneys. Read the article to find out more about the connection between these two vital organs.