Keep the pressure down” was the main theme of this year’s World Kidney Day earlier this month, as the Department of Health’s Bureau of Health Promotion encouraged those over the age of 54 to have their blood pressure checked regularly.
Kidney failure is a major killer in Taiwan, but few people are aware of the relationship between kidney failure and high blood pressure.
“If a high blood pressure sufferer does not take their medicine, sooner or later they will end up with kidney problems and may end up on dialysis,” said Huang Chi-hung (黃啟宏), a physician at Cathay General Hospital’s Department of Cardiac Internal Medicine.
Huang said that most medicines prescribed for high blood pressure patients also help protect a patient’s kidneys. But if the patient neglects to take their medicine, it is possible they will end up with both heart and kidney failure because high blood pressure is one of the main causes of kidney failure, while kidney failure is one of the main causes of high blood pressure.
In a table of the 10 most prescribed drugs last year recently released by the Bureau of National Health Insurance, amlodipine, a drug commonly prescribed for high blood pressure, was at the top of the list.
A total of NT$4.4 billion (US$133 million) of amlodipine was prescribed last year.
Huang said that high blood pressure decreases the effectiveness of kidney function and results in a build up of waste that kidneys normally dispose of. This can lead to kidney failure, he said.
“These two chronic diseases are like twin brothers. That means sufferers of high blood pressure should take notice of their kidneys, while a patient with kidney problems should be aware of their blood pressure,” Huang said.
James Chuang (莊易儐), a 63-year-old businessman, has suffered from high blood pressure for a many years. He did not realize that he was also suffering from polycystic kidney disease until his regular health check in 2002.
“I was totally overwhelmed and stunned,” Chuang said.
Chuang said that he has been suffering from hematuria since 1978, which was also when he was diagnosed with high blood pressure. Since doctors could not find the cause, Chuang never really paid attention to his hematuria.
Then, during one of his regular blood pressure checks at Cathay General Hospital, a young physician was surprised to learn that Chuang had never seen a kidney specialist, even though he had been on high blood pressure medication since 1978. The doctor transferred Chuang to a kidney doctor for further examination.
A few weeks later, chief physician Feng Hsiang-hua (馮祥華) from Cathay’s Renal Department, told Chuang that there was one major and several minor tumors inside his kidneys, but the MRI scan results showed that the tumors were not harmful.
He also told Chuang that he had polycystic kidney disease, a hereditary problem. The prescriptions for Chuang’s high blood pressure contained a diuretic, which had increased the workload on Chuang’s kidneys, a problem that was exacerbated because he did not drink enough water.
“I never realized that high blood pressure and kidney problems were so related,” Chuang said.
Shin Kong Wu Ho-shu Memorial Hospital’s Renal Department director Lin Bing-hsi (林秉熙) said that a healthy lifestyle, avoiding smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation and getting enough sleep and exercise were key to avoiding kidney problems.