So That’s How It’s Decided

SlowItDownCKD’s being honored as one of the best kidney disease blogs for 2016 has had some interesting results.  The first was the health and food writer’s guest blog about hydration for Chronic Kidney Disease on March 6th. Then it was the guest blog by the Social Security Administration’s Outreach Director. This week, it’s a telephone interview with Dr. Michael J. Germain, a nephrologist from Massachusetts, about some of the suggested guidelines in the upcoming KDIGO for 2016.

Got it:  backtrack. Let’s start with KDIGO. This stands for KIDNEY DISEASE | IMPROVING GLOBAL OUTCOMES. Their homepage at KDIGO.org states, “KDIGO MISSION – Improving the care and outcomes of kidney disease patients worldwide through the development and implementation of global clinical practice guidelines.” Anyone up for visiting their offices? What an excuse to go to Belgium!

Okay, now we know what the organization is and what it does, but why Dr. Germain? I asked the same question. Although he is not on the KDIGO panel of doctors who decide what the next year’s development and implementation will be, he is well versed with the topic having published or having been part of the writing for an overwhelming number of articles in such esteemed journals as the American Journal of Kidney Disease, Kidney International, and The Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, as well as contributing to textbooks, … and he could simplify the medicalese in the guidelines to simple English for this lay person.

If you think I remind you quite often that I’m not a doctor, you should read my emails to our liaison. State I’m not a doctor, repeat, state I’m not a doctor, repeat. She had the good graces to laugh at my insecurities.

The latest guideline updates have not been released yet, so both the good doctor (over 40 years as a nephrologist) and I (CKD patient and awareness advocate for a decade) were working off the draft that was released last August.

Dr. Germain also made it a point to ensure that I understand the guidelines are based upon expert opinion, not evidence. That made sense to me since he is not only a patient seeing nephrologist, but also a research nephrologist – to which his numerous publications will attest. With me being a lay person, he “had a lot of ‘splaining to do.” I had to admire his passion when discussing the vitamin D guidelines.

In the draft guidelines, it was suggested that hypercalcemia be avoided. I know; it’s a new word. We already know that hyper is a prefix meaning over or too much; think excessive in this case. Calcemia looks sort of like calcium. Good thinking because, according to Healthline at http://www.healthline.com/health/hypercalcemia:“Hypercalcemia is a condition in which you have too high a concentration of calcium in your blood. Calcium performs important functions, such as helping keep your bones healthy. However, too much of it can cause problems….”

This excerpt from What Is It and How Did I Get It? Early Stage Chronic Kidney Disease explains how calcium works with vitamin D and phosphorous.

“The kidneys produce calcitrol which is the active form of vitamin D. The kidneys are the organs that transfer this vitamin from your food and skin [sunshine provides it to your skin] into something your body can use. Both vitamin D and calcium are needed for strong bones. It is yet another job of your kidneys to keep your bones strong and healthy. Should you have a deficit of Vitamin D, you’ll need to be treated for this, in addition for any abnormal level of calcium or phosphates. The three work together. Vitamin D enables the calcium from the food you eat to be absorbed in the body. CKD may leech the calcium from your bones and body.”

The Book of Blogs: Moderate Stage Chronic Kidney Disease, Part 2 offers us more information.

“The parathyroid glands are located in the neck, near or attached to the back side of the thyroid gland. Parathyroid hormone controls calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D levels in the blood and bone. Release of PTH is controlled by the level of calcium in the blood. Low blood calcium levels cause increased PTH to be released, while high blood calcium levels block PTH release. …  Thanks to MedLine Plus at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003690.htm .”

As Dr. Germain explained, CKD patients break down vitamin D quickly since they have more of a catabolic enzyme, the enzyme that converts the vitamin D to an inactive form. Oh, right, catabolic means “any destructive process by which complex substances are converted by living cells into more simple compounds, with release of energy” according to Dorland’s Medical Dictionary for Health Consumers.

Here’s the problem: vitamin D can cause hypercalcemia. Dr. Germain phrased it, “In fact, the draft guideline recommends active vitamin D hormone therapy not to be routinely used in patients with CKD stage 3 or 4 due to increased risk of hypercalcemia and the lack of efficacy shown in studies.” Therefore, he urges nephrologists to wait until stage 4 or 5 to recommend vitamin D since hyperparathryoidism may lead to bone damage. But just as in any disease, it is harder to treat bone damage once it’s already there. His recommendation: Ask about your parathyroid level every three to six months and discuss the results of your tests with your nephrologist. By the way, his feeling – and obviously mine – is that preserving the kidney function is the most important job of the nephrologist and the patient.

I am eager to see the guidelines published so I can write more about them. The conclusion about vitamin D is based upon what nephrologists have seen in their practices since the last set of KDIGO guidelines were published in 2009. It will affect the way our nephrologists speak with us about our treatment, just as the other guidelines for 2016 will.

That will affect the way we self-manage. For example, I restrict my sun time to 15 minutes a day based on these findings. Take a look at how you self-manage. It should bring up a list of questions for you to ask your nephrologist at your next appointment.

You should also know the KDIGO deals with all stages of CKD including End Stage CKD and pediatric CKD.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

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