Markers of kidney dysfunction such as proteinuria or albuminuria have been reported to be associated with coronary heart disease, but the consistency and strength of any such relationship has not been clearly defined. This lack of clarity has led to great uncertainty as to how proteinuria should be treated in the assessment and management of cardiovascular risk. We therefore undertook a systematic review of published cohort studies aiming to provide a reliable estimate of the strength of association between proteinuria and coronary heart disease.
Methods and Findings
A meta-analysis of cohort studies was conducted to obtain a summary estimate of the association between measures of proteinuria and coronary risk. MEDLINE and EMBASE were searched for studies reporting an age- or multivariate-adjusted estimate and standard error of the association between proteinuria and coronary heart disease. Studies were excluded if the majority of the study population had known glomerular disease or were the recipients of renal transplants. Two independent researchers extracted the estimates of association between proteinuria (total urinary protein >300 mg/d), microalbuminuria (urinary albumin 30–300 mg/d), macroalbuminuria (urinary albumin >300 mg/d), and risk of coronary disease from individual studies. These estimates were combined using a random-effects model. Sensitivity analyses were conducted to examine possible sources of heterogeneity in effect size. A total of 26 cohort studies were identified involving 169,949 individuals and 7,117 coronary events (27% fatal). The presence of proteinuria was associated with an approximate 50% increase in coronary risk (risk ratio 1.47, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.23–1.74) after adjustment for known risk factors. For albuminuria, there was evidence of a dose–response relationship: individuals with microalbuminuria were at 50% greater risk of coronary heart disease (risk ratio 1.47, 95% CI 1.30–1.66) than those without; in those with macroalbuminuria the risk was more than doubled (risk ratio 2.17, 1.87–2.52). Sensitivity analysis indicated no important differences in prespecified subgroups.
These data confirm a strong and continuous association between proteinuria and subsequent risk of coronary heart disease, and suggest that proteinuria should be incorporated into the assessment of an individual's cardiovascular risk.
Vlado Perkovic and colleagues show, through a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies, that there is a strong and continuous association between proteinuria and subsequent risk of coronary heart disease.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death among adults in developed countries. With age, fatty deposits called atherosclerotic plaques coat the walls of arteries, the vessels that nourish the organs of the body by carrying blood and oxygen to them. Because they narrow the arteries, atherosclerotic plaques restrict the blood flow to the body's organs. If these plaques form in the arteries that feed the heart muscle (the coronary arteries), the result is CHD. The symptoms of CHD include shortness of breath and chest pains (angina). In addition, if a plaque breaks off the wall of a coronary artery, it can completely block that artery, which kills part of the heart muscle and causes a potentially fatal heart attack. Smoking, high blood pressure, high blood levels of cholesterol (a type of fat), having diabetes, being overweight, and being physically inactive are established risk factors for CHD. Treatments for CHD include lifestyle changes (for example, losing weight) and medications that lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol. The narrowed arteries can also be widened using a device called a stent or surgically bypassed.
Why Was This Study Done?
In addition to the established risk factors for CHD, several other factors may also increase a person's risk of developing CHD, including kidney disease, which affects one in six adults to some degree. An early sign of kidney dysfunction is high amounts of a protein called albumin or of total proteins in the urine (albuminuria and proteinuria, respectively). Some studies have suggested that proteinuria is associated with an increased risk of CHD, but the results of these studies are inconsistent. Consequently, it is unclear whether proteinuria should be considered when assessing and managing an individual's CHD risk. In this study, the researchers undertake a systematic review (a study in which predefined search criteria are used to identify all the research on a specific topic) and a meta-analysis (a statistical method for combining the results of several studies) of published studies that have investigated the association between proteinuria and CHD.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers' systematic review identified 26 published studies that provided estimates of the association between CHD risk and proteinuria and albuminuria by measuring baseline urinary protein and albumin levels in people who were then followed for several years to see whether they developed CHD. Nearly 170,000 individuals participated in these studies, which recorded more 7,000 fatal and nonfatal heart attacks and other coronary events. In the meta-analysis, proteinuria (urinary protein of more than 300 mg/d or dipstick 1+ or more) increased CHD risk by 50% after adjustment for other known CHD risk factors. Furthermore, individuals with microalbuminuria (a urinary albumin of 30–300 mg/d) were 50% more likely to develop CHD than those with normal amounts of urinary albumin; people with macroalbuminuria (urinary albumin of more than 300 mg/d) were more than twice as likely to develop CHD. Finally, the association between proteinuria and CHD did not differ substantially between specific subgroups of participants such as people with and without diabetes.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that there is a strong, possibly dose-dependent association between proteinuria and the risk of CHD and that this association is independent of other known CHD risk factors, including diabetes. The finding that people with proteinuria have a 50% or greater increased risk of developing CHD than people without proteinuria may be a slight overestimate of the strength of the association between proteinuria because of publication bias. That is, studies that failed to show an association may not have been published. However, because this systematic review and meta-analysis includes several large population-based studies done in various parts of the world, these findings are likely to be generalizable. Thus, these findings support the inclusion of an evaluation of proteinuria in the assessment of CHD risk and suggest that medications and other strategies that reduce proteinuria might help to reduce the overall burden of CHD.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050207.
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia has pages on coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis, and chronic kidney failure (in English and Spanish)
Information is available from the US National Heart Lung and Blood Institute on coronary heart disease
The UK National Health Service Direct health encyclopedia also provides information about coronary heart disease (in several languages)
Information for patients and caregivers is provided by the American Heart Association on all aspects of heart disease.
The British Heart Foundation also provides information on heart disease and on keeping the heart healthy