End-stage chronic kidney disease is associated with striking excesses of cardiovascular mortality, but it is uncertain to what extent renal function is related to risk of subsequent coronary heart disease (CHD) in apparently healthy adults. This study aims to quantify the association of markers of renal function with CHD risk in essentially general populations.
Estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) was calculated using standard prediction equations based on serum creatinine measurements made in 2,007 patients diagnosed with nonfatal myocardial infarction or coronary death during follow-up and in 3,869 people without CHD in the Reykjavik population-based cohort of 18,569 individuals. There were small and nonsignificant odds ratios (ORs) for CHD risk over most of the range in eGFR, except in the lowest category of the lowest fifth (corresponding to values of <60 ml/min/1.73m 2), in which the OR was 1.33 (95% confidence interval 1.01–1.75) after adjustment for several established cardiovascular risk factors. Findings from the Reykjavik study were reinforced by a meta-analysis of six previous reports (identified in electronic and other databases) involving a total of 4,720 incident CHD cases (including Reykjavik), which yielded a combined risk ratio of 1.41 (95% confidence interval 1.19–1.68) in individuals with baseline eGFR less than 60 ml/min/1.73m 2 compared with those with higher values.
Although there are no strong associations between lower-than-average eGFR and CHD risk in apparently healthy adults over most of the range in renal function, there may be a moderate increase in CHD risk associated with very low eGFR (i.e., renal dysfunction) in the general population. These findings could have implications for the further understanding of CHD and targeting cardioprotective interventions.
John Danesh and colleagues conclude there may be a moderate increase in risk of coronary heart disease associated with very low estimated glomerular filtration rate.
Coronary heart disease (CHD), the leading cause of death in most Western countries, is a “cardiovascular” disease—literally a disorder affecting the heart and/or blood vessels. In CHD, the blood vessels that supply the heart become increasingly narrow. Eventually, the flow of blood to the heart slows or stops, causing chest pains (angina), breathlessness, and heart attacks. Many factors increase the risk of developing CHD and other cardiovascular diseases, including high blood pressure, high blood levels of cholesterol (a type of fat), or being overweight. Individuals can reduce their chances of developing cardiovascular disease by taking drugs to reduce their blood pressure or cholesterol levels or by making lifestyle changes (so-called cardioprotective interventions). Another important risk factor for cardiovascular disease is end-stage chronic kidney disease (CKD), a condition in which the kidneys stop working. (In healthy people, the kidneys remove waste products and excess fluid from the body.) People with end-stage CKD (which is treated by dialysis) have about a five times higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared with healthy people.
End-stage CKD is preceded by a gradual loss of kidney function. There is a clear association between non-dialysis–dependent CKD and the incidence of cardiovascular events (such as heart attacks) in people who already have signs of cardiovascular disease. But are people with slightly dysfunctional kidneys (often because of increasing age) but without any obvious cardiovascular disease at greater risk of developing cardiovascular diseases than people with fully functional kidneys? If the answer is yes, it might be possible to reduce CHD deaths by minimizing the exposure of people with CKD to other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In this study, the researchers have taken two approaches to answer this question. In a population-based study, they have examined whether there is any association in healthy adults between kidney function measured at the start of the study and incident CHD (the first occurrence of CHD) over subsequent years. In addition, they have systematically searched the published literature for similar studies and combined the results of these studies using statistical methods, a so-called “meta-analysis.”
Between 1967 and 1991, nearly 19,000 middle-aged men and women without a history of heart attacks living in Reykjavik, Iceland, enrolled in a prospective study of cardiovascular disease. Baseline blood samples were taken at enrollment and the participants' health monitored for 20 years on average. The researchers identified 2,007 participants who suffered a nonfatal heart attack or died of CHD during follow-up and 3,869 who remained disease free. They then calculated the estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR; a measure of kidney function) for each participant from baseline creatinine measurements (creatinine is a muscle waste product). There was no association between lower-than-average eGFRs and the risk of developing CHD over most of the range of eGFR values. However, people whose eGFR was below approximately 60 units had about a 40% higher risk of developing CHD after allowing for established cardiovascular risk factors than individuals with higher eGFRs. This finding was confirmed by the meta-analysis of six previous studies, which included a further 2,700 incident CHD cases.
These findings indicate that people with an eGFR below about 60 units (the cut-off used to define CKD) may have an increased risk of developing CHD. They also indicate a nonliner association between kidney function and CHD risk. That is, any association with CHD became evident only when the eGFR dropped below about 60 units. These findings need confirming in different ethnic groups and by using more accurate methods to measure eGFRs. Nevertheless, they suggest that improving kidney function across the board is unlikely to have much effect on the overall incidence of CHD. Instead, they suggest that targeting cardioprotective interventions at the one in ten adults in Western countries whose eGFR is below 60 units might be a good way to reduce the burden of CHD.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040270.
Information on chronic kidney disease from the US National Kidney Foundation, and the US National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearing House (in English and Spanish)
Information on chronic kidney disease from the UK National Kidney Foundation