By Robert Preidt
THURSDAY, Nov. 5, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers say they've discovered an early warning sign of chronic kidney disease.
They found that levels of a common protein in the blood rise in the months or years before the disease develops.
Levels of the protein suPAR (soluble urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor) can be checked using a simple blood test. And the results can reliably predict a person's risk of developing chronic kidney disease up to five years before it begins causing damage, the researchers report.
The researchers assessed suPAR levels and kidney function in nearly 2,300 people, and followed them for five years. Over that time, they found that 40 percent of participants with high suPAR levels but no known kidney disease developed chronic kidney disease, compared with 10 percent of those with low suPAR levels.
The researchers also found that suPAR levels predicted kidney function decline in people with known early stage kidney disease.
The study was published online Nov. 5 in the New England Journal of Medicine, to coincide with a planned presentation Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Nephrology, in San Diego.
"SuPAR promises to do for kidney disease what cholesterol has done for cardiovascular disease," study senior author Dr. Jochen Reiser said in a Rush University Medical Center news release. Reiser, a nephrologist, is chairman of internal medicine at the Chicago medical center.
People with high suPAR levels can be counseled about steps they need to take to prevent kidney disease, much like people with high cholesterol levels are told to make lifestyle changes and are prescribed drugs to lower their risk of heart attack and stroke, he explained.
More than 15 percent of Americans have chronic kidney disease, and about 4 percent require dialysis and/or a transplant because of kidney failure. Chronic kidney disease causes about 47,000 deaths a year in the United States, according to the news release.