Bakris et al.‘s text on this topic is the first book I’ve read specifically devoted to the topic of DN. As I pointed out on goodreads, “this is a well-written and interesting work which despite the low page count cover quite a bit of ground. A well-sourced and to-the-point primer on these topics.” Below I have added a few observations from the book.
“Diabetic nephropathy (DN), also known as diabetic kidney disease (DKD), is one of the most important long-term complications of diabetes and the most common cause of endstage renal disease (ESRD) worldwide. DKD […] is defined as structural and functional renal damage manifested as clinically detected albuminuria in the presence of normal or abnormal glomerular filtration rate (GFR). […] Patients with DKD […] account for one-third of patients demanding renal transplantation. […] in the United States, Medicare expenditure on treating ESRD is approximately US $33 billion (as of 2010), which accounts for 8–9 % of the total annual health-care budget […] According to the United States Renal Data System […], the incidence of ESRD requiring RRT [in 2012] was 114,813 patients, with 44 % due to DKD . A registry report from Japan revealed a nearly identical relative incidence, with 44.2 % of the patients with ESRD caused by diabetes”
Be careful not to confuse incidence and prevalence here; the proportion of diabetics diagnosed with ESDR in any given year is almost certainly higher than the proportion of people with ESDR who have diabetes, because diabetics with kidney failure die at a higher rate than do other people with kidney failure. This problem/fact tends to make some questions hard to answer; to give an example, how large a share of the total costs that diabetics contribute to the whole kidney disease component of medical costs seems to me to be far from an easy question to answer, because you in some sense are not really making an apples-to-apples comparison, and a lot might well depend on the chosen discount rate and how to address the excess mortality in the diabetes sample; and even ‘simply’ adding up medical outlays for the diabetes- and non-diabetes samples would require a lot of data (which may not be available) and work. You definitely cannot just combine the estimates provided above, and assume that the 44% incidence translates into 44% of people with ESDR having diabetes; it’s not clear in the text where the ‘one-third of patients’ number above comes from, but if that’s also US data then it should be obvious from the difference between these numbers that there’s a lot of excess mortality here in the diabetes sample (I have included specific data from the publication on these topics below). The book also talks about the fact that the type of dialysis used in a case of kidney failure will to some extent depend on the health status of the patient, and that diabetes is a significant variable in that context; this means that the available/tolerable treatment options for the kidney disease component may not be the same in the case of a diabetic and a case of a patient with, say, lupus nephritis, and it also means that the patient groups most likely are not ‘equally sick’, so basing cost estimates on cost averages might lead to misleading results if severity of disease and (true) treatment costs are related, as they usually are.
“A recent analysis revealed an estimated diabetes prevalence of 12–14 % among adults in the United States […] In the age group ≥65 years, this amounts to more than 20 %”.
It should be emphasized in the context of the above numbers that the prevalence of DKD is highly variable across countries/populations – the authors also include in the book the observation that: “Over a period of 20 years, 32 studies from 16 countries revealed a prevalence ranging from 11 to 83 % of patients with diabetes”. Some more prevalence data:
“DKD affects about 30 % of patients with type 1 diabetes and 25–40 % of the patients with type 2 diabetes. […] The global prevalence of micro- and macroalbuminuria is estimated at 39 % and 10 %, respectively […] (NHANES III) […] reported a prevalence of 35 % (microalbuminuria) and 6 % (macroalbuminuria) in patients with T2DM aged ≥40 years . In another study, this was reported to be 43 % and 12 %, respectively, in a Japanese population . According to the European Diabetes (EURODIAB) Prospective Complications Study Group, in patients with T1DM, the incidence of microalbuminuria was 12.6 % (over 7.3 years) . This prevalence was further estimated at 33 % in an 18-year follow-up study in Denmark […] In the United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS), proteinuria [had] a peak incidence after around 15–20 years after diabetes diagnosis.”
I won’t cover the pathophysiology parts in too much detail here, but a few new things I learned does need to be mentioned:
“A natural history of DKD was first described in the 1970s by Danish physicians . It was characterized by a long silent period without overt clinical signs and symptoms of nephropathy and progression through various stages, starting from hyperfiltration, microalbuminuria, macroalbuminuria, and overt renal failure to ESRD. Microalbuminuria (30–300 mg/day of albumin in urine) is a sign of early DKD, whereas macroalbuminuria (>300 mg/day) represents DKD progression. [I knew this stuff. The stuff that follows below was however something I did not know:]
However, this ‘classical’ natural evolution of urinary albumin excretion and change in GFR is not present in many patients with diabetes, especially those with type 2 diabetes . These patients can have reduction or disappearance of proteinuria over time or can develop even overt renal disease in the absence of proteinuria [30, 35]. […] In the Wisconsin Epidemiologic Study of Diabetic Retinopathy (WESDR) of patients with T2DM, 45.2 % of participants developed albuminuria, and 29 % developed renal impairment over a 15-year follow-up period . Of those patients who developed renal impairment, 61 % did not have albuminuria beforehand, and 39 % never developed albuminuria during the study. Of the patients that developed albuminuria, only 24 % subsequently developed renal impairment during the study. A significant degree of discordance between development of albuminuria and renal impairment is apparent . These data, thus, do not support the classical paradigm of albuminuria always preceding renal impairment in the progression of DKD. […] renal hyperfiltration and rapid GFR decline are considered stronger predictors of nephropathy progression in type 1 diabetes than presence of albuminuria . The annual eGFR loss in patients with DKD is >3 mL/min/1.73 m2 or 3.3 % per year.”
As for the last part about renal hyperfiltration, they however also note later in the coverage in a different chapter that “recent long-term prospective surveys cast doubt on the validity of glomerular hyperfiltration being predictive of renal outcome in patients with type 1 diabetes”. Various factors mentioned in the coverage – some of which are very hard to avoid and some of which are actually diabetes-specific – contribute to measurement error, which may be part of the explanation for the sub-optimal performance of the prognostic markers employed.
An important observation I think I have mentioned before here on the blog is that diabetic nephropathy is not just bad because people who develop this complication may ultimately develop kidney failure, but is also bad because diabetics may die before they even do that; diabetics with even moderate stages of nephropathy have high mortality from cardiovascular disease, so if you only consider diabetics who actually develop kidney failure you may miss some of the significant adverse health effects of this complication; it might be argued that doing this would be a bit like analyzing the health outcomes of smokers while only tallying the cancer cases, and ignoring e.g. the smoking-associated excess deaths from cardiovascular disease. Some observations from the book on this topic:
“Comorbid DM and DKD are associated with high cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. The risk of cardiovascular disease is disproportionately higher in patients with DKD than patients with DM who do not have kidney disease . The incident dialysis rate might even be higher after adjusting for patients dying from cardiovascular disease before reaching ESRD stage . The United States Renal Data System (USRDS) data shows that elderly patients with a triad of DM, chronic kidney disease (CKD), and heart failure have a fivefold higher chance of death than progression to CKD and ESRD . The 5-year survival rate for diabetic patients with ESRD is estimated at 20 % […] This is higher than the mortality rate for many solid cancers (including prostate, breast, or renal cell cancer). […] CVD accounts for more than half of deaths of patients undergoing dialysis […] the 5-year survival rate is much lower in diabetic versus nondiabetic patients undergoing hemodialysis […] Adler et al. tested whether HbA1c levels were associated with death in adults with diabetes starting HD or peritoneal dialysis . Of 3157 patients observed for a median time of 2.7 years, 1688 died. [this example provided, I thought, a neat indication of what sort of data you end up with when you look at samples with a 20% 5-year survival rate] […] Despite modern therapies […] most patients continue to show progressive renal damage. This outcome suggests that the key pathogenic mechanisms involved in the induction and progression of DN remain, at least in part, active and unmodified by the presently available therapies.” (my emphasis)
The link between blood glucose (Hba1c) and risk of microvascular complications such as DN is strong and well-documented, but Hba1c does not explain everything:
“Only a subset of individuals living with diabetes […] develop DN, and studies have shown that this is not just due to poor blood glucose control [50–54]. DN appears to cluster in families […] Several consortia have investigated genetic risk factors […] Genetic risk factors for DN appear to differ between patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes […] The pathogenesis of DN is complex and has not yet been completely elucidated […] [It] is multifactorial, including both genetic and environmental factors […]. Hyperglycemia affects patients carrying candidate genes associated with susceptibility to DN and results in metabolic and hemodynamic alterations. Hyperglycemia alters vasoactive regulators of glomerular arteriolar tone and causes glomerular hyperfiltration. Production of AGEs and oxidative stress interacts with various cytokines such as TGF-β and angiotensin II to cause kidney damage. Additionally, oxidative stress can cause endothelial dysfunction and systemic hypertension. Inflammatory pathways are also activated and interact with the other pathways to cause kidney damage.”
“An early clinical sign of DN is moderately increased urinary albumin excretion, referred to as microalbuminuria […] microalbuminuria has been shown to be closely associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality [and] is [thus] not only a biomarker for the early diagnosis of DN but also an important therapeutic target […] Moderately increased urinary albumin excretion that progresses to severely increased albuminuria is referred to as macroalbuminuria […] Severely increased albuminuria is defined as an ACR≥300 mg/g Cr; it leads to a decline in renal function, which is defined in terms of the GFR  and generally progresses to ESRD 6–8 years after the onset of overt proteinuria […] patients with type 1 diabetes are markedly younger than type 2 patients. The latter usually develop ESRD in their mid-fifties to mid-sixties. According to a small but carefully conducted study, both type 1 and type 2 patients take an average of 77–81 months from the stage of producing macroproteinuria with near-normal renal function to developing ESRD .”
“Patients with diabetes and kidney disease are at increased risk of hypoglycemia due to decreased clearance of some of the medications used to treat diabetes such as insulin, as well as impairment of renal gluconeogenesis from having a lower kidney mass. As the kidney is responsible for about 30–80 % of insulin removal, reduced kidney function is associated with a prolonged insulin half-life and a decrease in insulin requirements as estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) decline […] Metformin [a first-line drug for treating type 2 diabetes, US] should be avoided in patients with an eGFR < 30 mL/min /1.73 m2. It is recommended that metformin is stopped in the presence of situations that are associated with hypoxia or an acute decline in kidney function such as sepsis/shock, hypotension, acute myocardial infarction, and use of radiographic contrast or other nephrotoxic agents […] The ideal medication regimen is based on the specific needs of the patient and physician experience and should be individualized, especially as renal function changes. […] Lower HbA1c levels are associated with higher risks of hypoglycemia so the HbA1c target should be individualized […] Whereas patients with mild renal insufficiency can receive most antihyperglycemic treatments without any concern, patients with CKD stage 3a and, in particular, with CKD stages 3b, 4, and 5 often require treatment adjustments according to the degree of renal insufficiency […] Higher HbA1c targets should be considered for those with shortened life expectancies, a known history of severe hypoglycemia or hypoglycemia unawareness, CKD, and children.”
“In cases where avoidance of development of DKD has failed, the second approach is slowing disease progression. The most important therapeutic issues at this stage are control of hypertension and hyperglycemia. […] Hypertension is present in up to 85 % of patients with DN/ DKD, depending on the duration and stage (e.g., higher in more progressive cases). […] In a recent meta-analysis, the efficacy and safety of blood pressure-lowering agents in adults with diabetes and kidney disease was analyzed […] In total, 157 studies comprising 43,256 participants, mostly with type 2 diabetes and CKD, were included in the network meta-analysis. No drug regimen was found to be more effective than placebo for reducing all-cause mortality. […] DKD is accompanied by abnormalities in lipid metabolism related to decline in kidney function. The association between higher low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) and risk of myocardial infarction is weaker for people with lower baseline eGFR, despite higher absolute risk of myocardial infarction . Thus, increased LDL-C seems to be less useful as a marker of coronary risk among people with CKD than in the general population.”
“An analysis of the USRDS data revealed an RR of 0.27 (95 % CI, 0.24–0.30) 18 months after transplantation in patients with diabetes in comparison to patients on dialysis on a transplant waiting list . The gain in projected years of life with transplantation amounted to 11 years in patients with DKD in comparison to patients without transplantation.”
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