A new study published in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases finds that more than 50% of middle-aged adults in the US are at risk of developing chronic kidney disease at some point in their lifetime.

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The percentage of adults aged 30 and older who currently have CKD stands at 13.2%. However, the researchers found this will jump to 14.4% by 2020 and 16.7% by 2030.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) describes a number of conditions that damage the kidneys over time.

As CKD progresses, the kidneys struggle to remove waste and excess water from the blood, causing it to accumulate to high levels. This can lead to high blood pressure, anemia, bone weakness, nerve damage and poor nutritional health.

Some people with CKD may go on to develop kidney failure, or end-stage renal disease, whereby the kidneys stop functioning completely. At this point, a patient will usually require dialysis or a kidney transplant.

According to the National Kidney Foundation (NKF), around 1 in 3 Americans are currently at risk of developing CKD at some point in their lives.

However, the investigators of this latest study, including Dr. Thomas Hoerger, a health economist and senior fellow at RTI International – a nonprofit research organization based in the US – found the risk of CKD may be even higher for those currently aged 30 or older.

To reach their findings, Dr. Hoerger and colleagues developed a model that allowed them to estimate the current prevalence of CKD among three age groups: 30-49, 50-64 and 65 and older.

In addition, the team used the model to estimate what the prevalence of CKD would be by the years 2020 and 2030.

The results surprised the researchers. They estimated that the percentage of adults aged 30 and older who currently have CKD stands at 13.2%. However, they found this will jump to 14.4% by 2020 and 16.7% by 2030.

Adults aged 30-49 were found to have the highest risk of CKD, with 54% likely to develop the disease in their lifetime. Around 52% of adults aged 50-64 were found to be at risk of developing CKD at some point in their lives, as were 42% of adults aged 65 and older.

In comparison, the team points out that around 12.5% of women are at risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime, while the lifetime risk of diabetes among men and women stands at around 38%, which emphasizes the severity of CKD risk among middle-aged adults.

Commenting on the findings, Dr. Hoerger says:

We were surprised by the high probability of developing CKD during a lifetime. It’s higher than most diseases that immediately jump to mind, and while the likelihood of chronic kidney disease progressing to complete kidney failure is much lower, CKD itself has been linked to a number of comorbidities and adverse health outcomes.”

Dr. Hoerger hopes that these findings will show US policy makers that CKD is a growing issue that needs to be addressed. “Ideally,” he adds, “this will act as an impetus to invest in interventions and discoveries that can slow the progression of kidney disease.”

Dr. Joseph Vassalotti, chief medical officer for the NKF, says people should be aware that as we age, our kidney function decreases, meaning we are at much higher risk of CKD when we reach age 60 and above.

However, Dr. Vassalotti notes that annual kidney screenings for people at high risk of CKD – such as seniors and those with high blood pressure or a family history of kidney failure – can help ensure the disease is detected early, giving people the chance to make lifestyle changes and use medication that may slow its progression.

Last month, Medical News Today reported on a study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, in which researchers detailed a model that may help patients with advanced CKD help decide which treatment is best for them.