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New study finds worrying relationship between chronic kidney disease and heat: 'More likely to end up on dialysis'

Understanding heat's role in a [chronic kidney disease] prognosis is important as our world becomes hotter than ever.

Understanding heat’s role in a [chronic kidney disease] prognosis is important as our world becomes hotter than ever.

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New research has uncovered yet another troubling connection between heat and our health

Patients diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, or CKD, in warmer climates faced significantly worse outcomes than those in countries with more moderate temperatures — even when scientists controlled for individual health factors (including weight, diabetes, and high blood pressure) and even a nation's income level, according to a study in The Lancet Planetary Health. 

What's happening?

Researchers from University College London (UCL) and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), along with collaborators, found "an additional 8% drop in kidney function each year" for CKD patients in hotter countries, according to a UCL writeup in Medical Xpress

The report explains this study is notable because it is the first to examine the impact of global heat on CKD outcomes over several years.

CKD is irreversible, as kidneys progressively deteriorate and then fail. The goal of treatment is to slow down this gradual process. 

The study concludes that regardless of a CKD patient's coexisting conditions or national economic status, consistent exposure to high temperatures can accelerate kidney damage

"Ultimately, our findings indicate that patients with chronic kidney disease in hot countries are more likely to end up on dialysis or require a kidney transplant, both of which are life-saving but also impact quality of life and are expensive where available," senior author David Wheeler said, per Medical Xpress.

Why is this finding important?

About 10% of the global population is affected by CKD. That percentage is even higher in the United States, where more than one in seven American adults (about 14%) are affected by the condition. That means that CKD is highly likely to affect someone you know well. 

Understanding heat's role in a CKD prognosis is important as our world becomes hotter than ever. June has already brought record-breaking temperatures to the U.S. 

"What makes this heatwave dangerous is its longevity, the early arrival of unusually hot temperatures, the lack of relief at night, and the abundant sunshine [near the year's longest day]," reported The New York Times

The rise in sweltering weather is directly linked to heat-trapping pollution — primarily from the burning of dirty fuels like coal, oil, and gas. When released, the pollution lingers in the air and holds onto heat

What's being done about it?

Recognizing that extreme heat can lead to poorer CKD outcomes will hopefully empower patients and medical professionals to take charge of treatment, including in high-heat countries largely lacking access to lifesaving kidney procedures such as dialysis and transplant

You can also educate yourself on how to stay safe amid a heat wave: Closely monitor any current health conditions — including required medications — keep hydrated, and reduce time spent outdoors away from air conditioning. Extreme heat can be deadly

Then, read up on how to take action. Minor shifts in transportation choices, diet (like by swapping one meat-based meal per week for more veggies), and your home can help prevent deadly heat waves and lead us toward a cooler, healthier future. 

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