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Climate Change Might Be Increasing Kidney Disease Rates

The kidneys are often ignored, but these small organs have an important role in filtering toxins and waste fluids through the body. When a person has chronic kidney disease, the kidneys slowly lose their ability to function, causing many health problems. Though most chronic kidney disease is caused by diabetes or high blood pressure, new research has found that a surprising factor may be increasing chronic kidney disease rates worldwide.

A research study lead by Dr. Richard Johnson was recently published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology that examined increasing kidney disease rates in impoverished communities. The research found that rates of kidney disease are rising at roughly the same rates as the worldwide temperature increase. The researchers have found that the form of kidney disease associated with changes in climate is heat stress nephropathy, which is kidney disease linked to heat stress.

The primary reason that heat stress nephropathy happens during rising temperatures is because heat makes people dehydrated. Dehydration during heat happens because the body tries to cool itself by sweating. The body loses a great deal of water while sweating, and more water is also lost from moist breath that is exhaled into hot, dry hair. The kidneys need adequate water to flush out waste, and without water, toxic materials and waste products rapidly build up, damaging the kidneys. In addition to dehydration, heat stress can also cause kidney issues because it can damage the body, releasing toxins into the bloodstream that the kidneys struggle to expel.

The researchers noted that the effects of climate change on kidney disease rates were particularly concerning in impoverished, rural areas. Though people working indoors may be able to avoid kidney disease, rural agricultural workers who are outside all day continue to suffer from rising temperatures. Rural workers also tend to be impoverished, so when heat waves and lessened precipitation cause drought, people in poorer, rural communities are unable to buy enough water to remain properly hydrated. Unfortunately, these rural workers are also less likely to seek treatment for their kidney problems.

In addition to the difficulty poorer patients have with paying for treatments, research discussed at the National Kidney 2016 Spring Clinical Meetings also found that rising temperatures made many patients with chronic kidney disease less likely to get the proper treatment. A symptom of kidney failure is a general feeling of fatigue and illness that makes it hard for patients to travel when it is miserably hot outside. An analysis of over 150,000 patients found that after temperatures reach 85 degrees Fahrenheit, many kidney disease patients are either unable or unwilling to go to dialysis treatments, which are necessary to prevent toxic buildup after kidneys fail.

Climate change is already causing many people to suffer from kidney issues, and medical researchers fear that rates of kidney disease will continue to increase as heat continues to rise. Since this heat stress induced kidney disease occurs among poor workers, they may not be able to afford treatment, and people who can get treatment may have difficulty traveling to treatment centers during hot days. Therefore, Dr. Johnson concludes that we may be facing “a new type of kidney disease [that] may be one of the first epidemics due to global warming.

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