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Doctors Find Non-Invasive Way to Screen for Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease is common in Western countries for example, it is estimated that 10 percent of older adults in the U.S. suffer from it. The incidence of kidney disease is also increasing in many developing countries as more people develop obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, all of which increase the risk of kidney problems. If kidney disease progresses, a person can develop end-stage disease, treatable only with dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Dr Abhijit Kshirsagar researches kidney disease at the University of North Carolina. Even though it's a common condition, he says many people don't know they have a problem because the symptoms don't really appear until kidney disease has progressed.

"We know that if we can identify these people earlier, we can slow that, and so hopefully we can lower the incidence of end-stage kidney disease," he says.

So Kshirsager and his colleagues have worked to develop a simple questionnaire to screen for early kidney disease. Using data from a large survey of about six thousand people, they focused on nine conditions identified with a higher risk of kidney disease. These include being older than 70 years of age, having a history of high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart failure.

Kshirsager says if kidney disease is caught early, it can be treated and prevented.

"You can manage these people with primarily blood pressure medications," says Dr. Kshirsager. "That's still a lot cheaper than dialysis, … you know, dialysis in this country costs about $75,000 per person. Most countries aren't going to be able to afford that."

But Kshirsager says the medications used to treat early kidney disease can cost as little as several dollars a month. He says his team is working on refining the screening questionnaire in clinics now. His research appears in the Archives of Internal Medicine.