Worried About Heart Disease? Check Your Kidneys

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 Dana Neely / Getty Images

Your kidneys may hold the keys to a healthy heart. New Johns Hopkins research suggests that kidney function may be a better indicator of heart disease risk than either blood pressure or cholesterol levels.

Data from more than 637,000 participants with no history of heart disease showed that two simple tests more accurately predicted risk of eventual heart failure or a related death than the traditional markers. The first test checks the blood for creatinine, a waste product from the muscles. Its presence reveals how adequately, or not, the kidneys are filtering this substance out. The second test measures the amount of albumin in the urine, which shows how much of this protein is seeping out of the kidneys. Higher levels are a sure sign of kidney damage, as well as vascular damage throughout the whole body, which is why they also predict potential heart troubles.

"Although the kidneys and the heart are anatomically distant, both are critical for blood circulation," says lead researcher Dr. Kunihiro Matsushita. "The heart pumps blood and the kidneys filter it. Thus, an abnormality in one organ may hinder normal blood circulation and impact the other organ. For example, reduced kidney function can result in volume overload, thereby increasing the risk of heart failure."

Because these organ functions go hand in hand, Matsushita says kidney and heart diseases share several risk factors, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, and even aging. That's why many doctors already perform the two kidney-assessment tests on men who fall into any of these categories. "But even if you don't have hypertension, diabetes, or any other common risk factor, you might have a family history of kidney failure or hereditary kidney disease," Matsushita says. "If that could be the case, definitely ask your doctor for a kidney assessment."