Spouses likely to share kidney disease

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Spouses of patients on dialysis are likely to have chronic kidney disease themselves and should be screened for it, Taiwanese researchers reported on Friday.

For the spouses, the odds of having the debilitating disease more than doubled compared to the general population, and even exceeded those of the patients’ relatives.

Being married to a patient on dialysis hadn’t been recognized as a risk factor for kidney disease before, Kerry Willis of the National Kidney Foundation in New York, told Reuters Health.

Dialysis treatment does some things that a failing kidney no longer can do. These include removing waste, salt and extra water from the body, maintaining safe levels of certain chemicals in the blood and helping control blood pressure.

Although genetics plays a role in the development of kidney disease, the study suggests that health habits - often shared by husbands and wives -- are also important, said Willis, who was not involved in the study.

The Taiwanese researchers, led by Hung-Chun Chen, of Kaohsiung Medical University, tested both spouses and relatives of people in dialysis. More than four in 10 spouses had the disease, compared to less than one in 10 among age-matched controls.

Family history, high blood pressure and diabetes all increase the risk of developing the disease, and the National Kidney Foundation offers free screening to people with any of these risk factors.

“This is strong enough evidence that the spouses of dialysis patients absolutely should be screened,” said Willis. While her organization does not yet offer screening to spouses, Willis said it is reviewing its policy based on the new findings.

“Environmental factors, such as low socioeconomic status and lifestyle of inactivity and smoking, also should be considered as potential contributing factors” for chronic kidney disease,” the authors write in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases.

They add that “a comprehensive screening program for (chronic kidney disease) is equally important in both relatives and spouses of (hemodialysis) patients.”

There are currently more than 350,000 patients who receive dialysis in the U.S., usually several times a week, and millions of people with chronic kidney disease.

But catching the disease early can make a difference, according to Willis.

“If you can slow the progression, most people have enough kidney function left that you can maintain kidney function so that you won’t ever need dialysis,” she said.

SOURCE: the American Journal of Kidney Diseases, online April 30, 2010.