Obese Young Adults Unaware of Kidney Risk

Obese Young Adults Unaware of Kidney Risk
A simple urine test can detect kidney problems, but most cases go undiagnosed in young people. Photo courtesy Flickr.com/Steven Depolo.

Young adults who are obese face a high risk of developing chronic kidney disease. However, few of them are aware of the danger and may not take steps to reduce their chances of kidney problems or to get diagnosed.

The study comes from Harini Sarathy, M.D., Michal L. Melamed, M.D., and other researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. They analyzed health data on 6,918 young adults, who were aged 20 to 40 and not pregnant, to determine their risk of developing chronic kidney disease (
CKD). The data came from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a study looking into the health and nutrition of American children and adults, between 1999 and 2010.

The study participants had self-identified as white, black, or Mexican-American. The researchers classed each participant as having abdominal obesity if they had a waist larger than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women. Tests included determining albumin protein levels in the urine, a signal that the kidneys are not functioning properly, and other tests included insulin sensitivity, glucose levels, and blood pressure.

Obesity is associated with hypertension and diabetes, which can both increase the risk of kidney damage. However, other studies had suggested that even when hypertension and diabetes are not present, abdominal obesity can still increase the risk of kidney damage. Chronic kidney disease is usually associated with older patients, and less is known about the risk in younger people so it often goes undiagnosed.

In the current study, the researchers discovered that 11 percent of the Mexican-American participants who were classed as obese had albuminuria, which is high levels of albumin in their urine. This was four times the risk of Mexican Americans with a normal weight. About six percent of white and black participants who were classed as obese had albuminuria. Even when obese study participants had normal glucose levels, insulin sensitivity, and blood pressure, they could still have excess albumin in their urine, indicating a kidney problem.

Although the study detected albuminuria in many of the participants, fewer than five percent of them were aware they had kidney disease. This likely means that despite being obese, their doctors failed to recognize their risk for albuminuria, and never tested for the problem.

The study seems to confirm that those who are obese face a higher risk of chronic kidney disease, and the disease often goes undetected in younger people. This suggests that greater awareness is needed, letting both patients and doctors know that being obese means a risk of CKD. With greater awareness, these patients may get the simple tests needed to detect kidney problems, starting treatment earlier. It may also mean that these patients and their doctors can take early steps to help reduce the risk of kidney disease, such as encouraging weight loss, exercise, and a healthier lifestyle.

Chronic kidney disease is the gradual loss of kidney function. As kidney function worsens, the kidneys are less able to filter waste from the body, and this buildup of waste can lead to other health issues. Someone with chronic kidney disease may experience poor nutrition, anemia, weak bones, nerve damage, and high blood pressure, and they face a greater risk of blood vessel and heart disease. If the kidney disease progresses far enough, the kidneys may fail completely, prompting the need for dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Symptoms of chronic kidney disease include tiredness and lack of energy, trouble sleeping, poor concentration, poor appetite, muscle cramps, frequent urination, swollen feet and ankles, puffy eyes, and dry, itchy skin. If caught early enough, doctors can treat CKD, helping to prevent it from worsening. Simple tests at the doctor’s office can detect kidney disease.

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