The Mystery of High Kidney Failure Rates for Cane Field Workers

A kidney disease epidemic has been raging in Central America and Mexico for two decades, and most people in the United States are completely unaware of the situation. Some estimate that 20,000 or more men who work in agricultural fields have suffered from kidney failure, even though they were at the prime of their life.

The mysterious condition has been given a name, Mesoamerican nephropathy. It used to be called chronic kidney disease of unknown cause (CKDu). Even though health care professionals know what to call it, the condition is still vexing on many levels. Compounding the frustration is the fact that the health care system in that section of the world still isn't developed enough to deal with the thousands of patients suffering from the last stages of kidney disease. The necessary dialysis machines and kidney transplants simply aren't available for those who are suffering.

While Mesoamerican nephropathy is common among sugar cane field workers, it isn't exclusive to them. Others who engage in serious manual labor outside on a daily basis and who live on the Pacific coast from southern Mexico and certain parts of Central America, have also developed the kidney condition.

One of the characteristic traits of Mesoamerican nephropathy is that those who suffer from it don't have diabetes or hypertension. That's unusual for end-stage renal disease patients, which caused medical researchers to start digging into the mystery. After several peer-reviewed studies were conducted, it became apparent that the condition was concentrated in certain areas of southern Mexico, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica.

Many of the patients who have suffered from Mesoamerican nephropathy have one thing in common: they've worked all day in the hot sun, performing agricultural labor for years. The obvious factor that has been brought up in several studies is that the workers aren't staying properly hydrated, not just once in a while, but day after day. Some researchers feel that the condition is made worse by the workers taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, such as aspirin, to cure the aches and pains of the hard manual labor.

Making Mesoamerican nephropathy even more frustrating is the fact that it seems to be localized to the Pacific coast. For example, chronic kidney disease is much higher in Nicaragua than in Cuba, where sugar cane is also a common crop. Researchers have theorized that everything from the presence of heavy metals in the soil to drinks with high fructose corn syrup that are commonly consumed by workers, and even chemicals used on the crops on the Pacific coast are creating the perfect conditions for the disease to flourish.

Mesoamerican nephropathy isn't only mystifying, it's ripping entire communities apart. In areas where agriculture workers make up the majority of the population, widowed women who have multiple small children to care for is now a common plight.

While there are many theories about what causes Mesoamerican nephropathy, the condition is still very much a medical mystery. While it's only characteristic of workers in a handful of Latin American countries, understanding it better could ease the suffering of many people.
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Man Donates Kidney, Saves His Own Life

Everyone hears all the time that donating a kidney or other vital organs can save another's life, but the fact is it could save the donor's life as well. One man in North Carolina learned this lesson firsthand, serving as a reminder that what comes around goes around.

Many news outlets, including the Today Show, highlighted how a pastor decided to be tested for a kidney donation that would go to a man he barely knew, because it was the right thing to do. For quite a few people, going under the knife is a scary situation, but this man had the courage to come forward and potentially save another's life. When doctors found that the two were a match, the donor went ahead with the procedure, never imagining what would happen next.

After seven hours in surgery, the pastor's wife was concerned that something was not right. Her intuition was correct, because the surgeons had found an aneurysm in the renal artery. The condition had not been discovered previously, which is actually surprisingly common, putting him in grave danger.

Had the doctors not discovered the aneurysm, the kidney donor would have been in dire risk of dying suddenly once the artery ruptured. The story serves as a solid reminder about a silent killer that often goes undetected until it is too late.    

The fact is there often are no symptoms for a renal artery aneurysm (RAA), making them particularly deadly and a scary condition. In some cases, RAA is caused by atherosclerosis, or the hardening of the arteries. Fibromuscular dysplasia (FMD), which is a disease that involves the arteries narrowing, has also been cited as a potential cause as well.

Typically, those at risk for RAA are around 40 to 60 years old, with women being statistically more susceptible to the condition. There are some lifestyle factors that also increase the likelihood of RAA, including hypertension (especially when it onsets at a later age), diabetes, high cholesterol and a habit of smoking. 

When a RAA is caught before rupturing, it often is when doctors are imaging the area for another condition. If left alone, the aneurysm will usually burst around the time it reaches about two centimeters in diameter, which is why repairing the damage is necessary.

With a smaller RAA, doctors might choose to simply observe the condition for signs of growth or health conditions triggered by it. Once it grows larger, the patient is/might become pregnant, or if the condition is causing kidney ischemia (cutting off necessary blood flow to the kidney tissue) a surgical treatment might be in order.

The procedure must be performed in a hospital, often with urology and vascular surgeons doing the work. Most people spend about three to five days in the hospital recovering, then must take it easy for about a month before returning to life as normal.

In some rare cases, the condition can be treated with a minimally invasive medical procedure, which only requires a single day in the hospital and about a week of recovery at home.

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Kidney Grown in the Lab Could Mean Great News for Those with Kidney Problems

Modern medical science seems to be making leaps and bounds forward all the time. We don’t have a cure for the common cold, but honestly, that doesn’t matter when you look at some of the amazing things that are happening in laboratories around the world today. Take this recent example of a kidney grown in a lab. This is huge news. Even though techniques to make this kidney were similar to those used to grow other types of organs, the kidney is extraordinarily complex.

Getting the kidney to work right has always been an issue, but new experiments are showing that the scientists are nearly there. They have been able to grow a kidney and transplant it into a rat. At that point, the bioengineered kidneys were able to take over and start filtering blood and making urine. While this is amazing, it is important to remember that growing actual human kidneys is still a ways off. They still need to perfect the technology, as these lab kidneys are not quite as effective as the real thing, at least not yet. Still, they show an amazing amount of promise, and that should be great news for those who work in this field and those who are suffering as well

The technique requires a kidney stripped of its internal contents, which then re-grow thanks to cells from the patient. This scaffolding technique sounds complicated, and it is. However, similar techniques have worked with other organs before, and it works on a small scale with kidneys right now. If these prove to be successful, it could mean that people no longer have to be on a waiting list for kidneys – they can grow them. It also means there is less of a chance that the body will reject the kidney when using this technique. 

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Our blog entries are for your information only and are not intended as medical advice. Because everyone is different, we recommend you work with your medical professional to determine what’s best for you.

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Kidney Disease Is a Huge Threat for Diabetics

Everyone knows that kidney disease is a very serious condition, and a recent study that came out of the University of Washington shows that it can mean a much greater risk of having an early death for diabetics. Even though it is a very dangerous and potentially deadly disease, not enough patients are actually getting the tests they need to check for kidney disease. Since the disease doesn’t always have noticeable signs and symptoms until it is too late, this is a huge problem. 

One of the biggest segments of the population at risk for developing kidney disease is diabetics. Those who are suffering from this disease should always make sure that they are getting regular tests to check for kidney malfunction. Since diabetics already know that they have health issues, there is no good reason to avoid getting a test other than fear. Research in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology studied 15,000 adults with and without diabetes. Out of that number, less than 10% of people without diabetes had kidney disease, but more than 40% with diabetes also had kidney disease.

Some patients worry that they will have another disease to worry about and feel that if they ignore a potential problem it will go away. Unfortunately, things do not work out that way. Kidney disease will not get better. It will only get worse, and the diabetes can exacerbate the problem. It is a good idea to get the tests early and find out whether your kidneys are showing signs of problems.

Finding the problem early allows you to make some changes to your life so you can try to keep your kidney function at the current level. Those who simply ignore the problem may eventually have to go on dialysis or even lose their kidney if it stops functioning. Take steps early to get the help that you need. 

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Our blog entries are for your information only and are not intended as medical advice. Because everyone is different, we recommend you work with your medical professional to determine what’s best for you.

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Keyhole Kidney Transplant a Success in Europe

Surgeons from the Royal Liverpool Hospital were able to perform a successful kidney transplant making use of a “keyhole” surgery. This is the first time they’ve been able to perform this surgery, which originated in India, successfully in Europe. One of the benefits is that it can help the patient to recover far more quickly after they go through the transplant.

Consider how a traditional transplant happens. It requires a large incision so the doctors will be able to reach into the cavity, remove the old kidney, and replace it with a new one. This is rather traumatic to the body, and it can take a long time to heal properly. With this technique, they were able to reduce the size of that incision to a mere two inches.

The Institute of Kidney Diseases and Research Centre in India developed this technique, and they say that the patients who undergo this type of surgery are happy with the results because it reduces the healing time so much. After the surgery in England, the patient was actually up and moving around just four days after going through the procedure.

In addition to healing faster, there is also the cosmetic element. Since the incision is smaller, patients do not have to worry about sporting a large scar after the surgery.

This type of surgery is not necessary for all patients, but it can actually be a better option for many. Those who are obese can benefit greatly from this type of surgery, as it does not carry as much risk. Larger patients, because of the typical amount of cutting, are generally at a greater risk of complications when undergoing traditional kidney transplant surgery. This option will certainly help to mitigate their risks.

It is always great news when new techniques can help to make complicated surgeries safer and easier to heal from for patients.

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Our blog entries are for your information only and are not intended as medical advice. Because everyone is different, we recommend you work with your medical professional to determine what’s best for you.

Read more →