Monday, January 17, 2011

The Incidence Of Kidney Failure Due To Diabetes Is Down – But We Should Not Be Pleased

Diabetes mellitus is the most common cause of kidney failure that progresses to end stage renal disease (ESRD,) meaning that the person requires dialysis or kidney transplant. ESRD is chronic and life long, is complicated to treat, has a major negative effect on quality of life and the costs are high.

So it was good news when the Centers of Disease Control reported that the incidence of ESRD among diabetics had declined by about 35% over the ten years ending in 2007. The reasons for the decline are not known but a few assumptions seem reasonable. More and more patients now keep good control of their blood sugar with careful monitoring and many also keep their blood pressure under control with anti-hypertensive medications. Further, it has been shown that angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (or ACE inhibitors) and angiotensin-receptor blockers (or ARBs) slow the decline of kidney function in those with diabetes and early kidney failure. It is believed that as many as 80% of these patients are taking ACE or ARBs – a good thing. All of these may be the factors that have led to this decline of diabetes to kidney failure; or there may be others as yet not appreciated.

But the news really is not so good. The decline in kidney failure incidence was offset by a much increased absolute number of individuals with diabetes developing kidney failure. Why? Because there are so many more individuals developing diabetes now than just a decade ago – so there are more people at risk of and therefore developing kidney failure.

We can be pleased that secondary prevention approaches are slowing the onset of kidney failure among those with diabetes but we should be aghast that so many of our fellow citizens are setting themselves up for a high risk of diabetes as a result of obesity.

The message - the real need is to accelerate efforts to stop the epidemic of obesity (excess consumption of not very nutritious food compounded with a sedentary lifestyle, including in adolescents.) Obesity is the primary culprit leasing to the rapidly rising number of individuals with diabetes.

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Praise for Dr Schimpff

The craft of science writing requires skills that are arguably the most underestimated and misunderstood in the media world. Dumbing down all too often gets mistaken for clarity. Showmanship frequently masks a poor presentation of scientific issues. Factoids are paraded in lieu of ideas. Answers are marketed at the expense of searching questions. By contrast, Steve Schimpff provides a fine combination of enlightenment and reading satisfaction. As a medical scientist he brings his readers encyclopedic knowledge of his subject. As a teacher and as a medical ambassador to other disciplines he's learned how to explain medical breakthroughs without unnecessary jargon. As an advisor to policymakers he's acquired the knack of cutting directly to the practical effects, showing how advances in medical science affect the big lifestyle and economic questions that concern us all. But Schimpff's greatest strength as a writer is that he's a physician through and through, caring above all for the person. His engaging conversational style, insights and fascinating treasury of cutting-edge information leave both lay readers and medical professionals turning his pages. In his hands the impact of new medical technologies and discoveries becomes an engrossing story about what lies ahead for us in the 21st century: as healthy people, as patients of all ages, as children, as parents, as taxpayers, as both consumers and providers of health services. There can be few greater stories than the adventure of what awaits our minds, bodies, budgets, lifespans and societies as new technologies change our world. Schimpff tells it with passion, vision, sweep, intelligence and an urgency that none of us can ignore.

-- N.J. Slabbert, science writer, co-author of Innovation, The Key to Prosperity: Technology & America's Role in the 21st Century Global Economy (with Aris Melissaratos, director of technology enterprise at the John Hopkins University).