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The Silent Killer

The Silent KillerNew tests are needed for tens of millions of Americans who are at high risk for kidney failure, but don't know it, says a leading kidney expert at Tufts. Washington.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [02.06.02] As many as 20 million Americans have kidney disease and another 20 million are at high risk for the deadly condition, but most don't know they are in danger, according to a newly released report by a panel of the country's top kidney experts. Led by Tufts' Dr. Andrew Levey, the expert task force announced new testing guidelines to help detect and treat earlier cases of the potentially deadly disease, which have been on the rise in recent years.

"We now realize that earlier stages of the disease are much more common than previously thought," Levey -- the chief of nephrology at Tufts' School of Medicine -- told the Washington Post. "If the diagnosis is made earlier and if kidney disease is treated earlier, some of the complications of chronic kidney disease can be prevented, including the progression to kidney failure and the development of heart disease."

Kidney failure -- which prevents the body from filtering waste from the blood stream -- can be deadly.

"When the kidneys fail, the wastes accumulate in the body and cause death within weeks, unless the person undergoes dialysis -- an hours-long process in which a machine filters the blood, typically several times a week -- or receives a kidney transplant," reported the Post.

According to the panel -- chaired by Levey and formed by the National Kidney Foundation -- the high prevalence of undetected kidney disease must be addressed immediately.

"The group released broad new testing guidelines designed to help doctors and patients catch early signs of kidney disease before they lead to eventual renal failure," reported Reuters.

Levey, chief of nephrology at the Tufts-New England Medical Center, said early detection is critical.

"This is a shift in emphasis from kidney failure to prevention," he told Reuters.

In their report, released Tuesday, Levey recommended that Americans add their glomerular filtration rate [GFR] to the medical information that they pay close attention to, including their cholesterol and blood pressure.

"The same way people with high blood pressure know their blood pressure number and people with cholesterol know their cholesterol number, we think people should come to know their GFR," Levey told Reuters. "When you get to 60 or below, even if there's no evidence, that is chronic kidney disease, and more medical attention is required at that point."

They recommended high-risk individuals add three additional tests to their doctor's visits.

"The elderly, those with diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history of kidney disease [should] get three key tests when visiting their doctor: a test to measure creatinine levels in the blood, a screen to check for protein in the urine and a simple blood pressure measurement," reported Reuters.

Currently, the health care system spends up to $15 billion annually to treat the disease, which kills up to 60,000 Americans every year.

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