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Kidney disease death rate soars among Americans

| Monday, March 11, 2013, 12:18 a.m.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
On World Kidney Day at Allegheny General Hospital, Shelly Turkovich, RN, speaks about treatment options to the audience at the Learning Empowerment Answers Forum (LEAF) on Sunday, March 10th, 2013.

The obesity epidemic stressing beltlines, hearts and wallets appears to be taking another toll on Americans, doctors warn.

Two serious conditions linked to obesity — diabetes and high blood pressure — are among the major causes of kidney disease, which kills about 50,000 people in the United States each year. Reported death rates from the disease have jumped about 82 percent in the past two decades, according to global research cited by the National Kidney Foundation.

“We see so many people who are morbidly obese, and the consequences are devastating,” said Dr. Beth Piraino, the foundation president and a UPMC kidney specialist. She said the Pittsburgh area especially has “a lot of risk factors” for kidney disease, including an aging population.

About 2,710 Pennsylvanians died of renal failure in 2010, up from 1,302 in 1990, according to reports filed with the state Department of Health. The total in Allegheny County was 309, up from 204 in 1990.

About 29 percent of Pittsburgh-area residents were obese as of 2010, a couple percentage points ahead of a national average that's ballooned during the past two decades, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.

Those obese residents might face a risk of kidney failure that's twofold or threefold greater than the risk for slimmer people, according to independent reviews.

“The recognition of obesity as a compounding risk factor for other illnesses has prompted us to want to screen and detect those chronic illnesses earlier than we otherwise might have in the past,” said Dr. Bryan Becker, an administrator at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago. “In that context, I think we're going to see an increased rate of detection of chronic kidney disease” and in earlier stages.

The kidney foundation, a New York-based advocacy group, underscored the apparent obesity link on Sunday, designated as World Kidney Day. The campaign centers attention on kidney health, emphasizing lower-salt diets, physical activity and ample sleep.

Beyond losing weight, obese people can ease strain on their kidneys by cutting down on meal-portion sizes, sugary drinks and sodium intake, doctors said. Piraino said she expects reports of kidney disease will rise as better testing uncovers more cases that might have gone undiagnosed.

At a kidney symposium on Sunday at Allegheny General Hospital in the North Side, organizers stressed the need for organ donors. They said obesity might be a major cause of kidney disease but wouldn't be the only one, citing other cases of diabetes and bacterial infections, among many issues.

Patients “can learn to live with it. There is life,” said Diana Headlee-Bell, 50, of Somerset Township in Washington County. An organizer with the Western Pennsylvania Kidney Support Groups, she has lived with bacteria-caused kidney disease since she was 11.

“The more they become aware of it, the more they understand it, they will do just fine,” she said.

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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