Chronic kidney disease develops faster in people living in hot countries

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A recent study conducted by researchers from University College London (UCL) and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) reveals that chronic kidney disease (CKD) patients living in the world’s hottest countries experience a more rapid decline in kidney function compared to those in temperate climates.

Published in The Lancet Planetary Health, this study marks the first global analysis exploring how heat impacts kidney disease over time, highlighting a significant 8% additional annual decrease in kidney function among these patients.

CKD is a condition where the kidneys progressively lose their ability to function properly, affecting about one in ten people globally. This decline can eventually necessitate dialysis or a kidney transplant—treatments that are costly and can significantly affect a patient’s quality of life.

While managing CKD is relatively affordable, the costs soar when a patient requires kidney replacement therapies. In the UK alone, where around 70,000 people are currently receiving such treatments, kidney failure accounts for roughly 3% of the NHS budget.

The situation is even direr in less developed countries, where access to necessary treatments like dialysis and transplants often isn’t available, making kidney failure potentially fatal.

The research collaboration between UCL and LSHTM involved analyzing clinical trial data from pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, paired with heat index data across 21 countries.

This encompassed a diverse range of climates and economic conditions, from affluent nations like the US and Japan to middle-income countries like Vietnam.

The findings were clear: heat significantly exacerbates the decline in kidney function in CKD patients, and this effect is independent of a country’s wealth, or other health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure, or diabetes.

Professor Ben Caplin, a senior researcher from UCL, emphasized the clinical significance of these findings.

Prior to this study, it was challenging to determine if the faster progression of CKD in hotter regions was due to environmental factors or other variables like healthcare access, lifestyle, or comorbid conditions.

The results now confirm that the heat itself plays a crucial role in accelerating kidney deterioration.

This revelation is particularly troubling in the context of global warming. With average global temperatures rising due to climate change—currently 1.1 degrees Celsius higher than pre-Industrial levels—the need to address the health impacts of heat has become more urgent.

Strategies to mitigate these effects might include improved hydration, shielding from direct sunlight, and broader access to cooling technologies.

Professor Dorothea Nitsch from LSHTM pointed out that even in wealthier, hot countries, simple interventions that could help manage the impact of heat, like air conditioning and accessible drinking water, are not always available to those in need.

This underscores the disparity in health outcomes linked not just to economic status but also to a country’s infrastructure and public health policies.

In summary, the study underscores a critical public health message: as the planet continues to warm, the health of millions of CKD patients in hot climates may depend increasingly on our ability to adapt to these conditions.

Without adequate measures to manage and mitigate the effects of heat exposure, many more individuals may face the severe outcomes of accelerated kidney disease, highlighting a pressing need for global health interventions and climate action.

If you care about kidney health, please read studies about drug that prevents kidney failure in diabetes, and drinking coffee could help reduce risk of kidney injury.

For more information about kidney health, please see recent studies about foods that may prevent recurrence of kidney stones, and common painkillers may harm heart, kidneys and more.

The research findings can be found in The Lancet Planetary Health.

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