People with kidney failure have an increased risk of developing heart failure and vice versa. Medication, diet, and lifestyle changes may protect your organs.

Approximately 6.2 million adults in the United States have heart failure. Many people with heart failure also experience other related health conditions, including kidney failure.

The heart and kidneys work together and rely on each other. When one of these organs is damaged, the other will be affected without intervention.

This article explains the connection between these two organs and how you can help protect your kidneys even if you have heart failure. This may include medication use, dietary changes, and lifestyle adjustments.

Having either kidney failure or heart failure increases a person’s risk of developing the other.

Damage to either one of these organs can result in problems for the other.

High blood pressure is a risk factor for both heart and kidney failure. It can also be the reason a person experiences problems with both organs at the same time.

There are two main reasons for the heart or kidneys to start failing if the other organ is in failure:

If the heart is failing, it can lead to impaired blood flow and cause kidney damage

When the heart is failing, it no longer pumps efficiently, and blood builds up in the heart. This causes pressure to build in the main vein connected to the kidneys. It can lead to congestion of blood in the kidneys, too.

This increased pressure can cause blood vessels to narrow. Eventually, this can cause vessels to weaken and result in damage to organs.

Additionally, when the heart is not pumping well, the kidneys have a reduced supply of oxygenated blood.

If the kidneys are failing, it can lead to higher blood pressure and cause heart damage

When blood vessels in the kidneys are damaged, the kidneys are not able to fully function. This means they may not be able to remove all of the extra waste and fluids inside the body. This results in extra fluid in the blood, which can then raise blood pressure, making the heart to work harder.

Additionally, when the kidneys are impaired, the endocrine system, which is in charge of regulating blood pressure, goes into overdrive trying to increase blood supply to the kidneys. This causes the heart to have to pump against higher pressure in the arteries. The heavier workload can result in damage to the heart.

Some risk factors for kidney disease and heart disease include:

Risk factorKidney diseaseHeart disease
high blood pressure
family history of the disease
race and ethnicity (people who are African American, Hispanic, or Native American at higher risk)
high cholesterol
high levels of alcohol consumption
are male and 45 years or older, or female and 55 years or older

If you have heart failure, your doctor may request a blood test and a urine test.

The blood test measures your creatine level. A calculation that includes creatine, age, and sex estimates the glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which is the best overall index of kidney function. Some calculations may include race and body mass index.

The urine test checks for the presence of albumin. Albumin is a protein that can pass into the urine when the kidneys are damaged.

Your doctor may also request some imaging tests, like a kidney ultrasound or MRI, to ensure there are no abnormalities or blockages.

If you have heart failure, your doctor may make the following recommendations to protect your kidneys:

  • prescribe medications, like diuretics, to help rid the body of extra fluids and reduce blood pressure
  • request frequent blood tests to see whether creatinine levels are raised, which indicate that kidney function is impaired
  • advise a heart- and kidney-healthy diet that’s low in sodium
  • encourage regular exercise
  • stress the importance of not smoking or heavy drinking

How to protect your kidneys with heart failure

If you have heart failure, there are a variety of things you can do to help protect your kidneys:

  • Visit your doctor frequently to have your health monitored.
  • Eat a nutritious, balanced diet that’s low in sodium.
  • Keep your blood pressure below 140/90 mm Hg.
  • Ensure your blood glucose is well managed, if you have diabetes.
  • Talk with your doctor about cholesterol level goals.
  • Make sure you take all medications as prescribed.
  • Manage your weight.
  • Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.
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People with kidney failure have an increased risk of developing heart failure and vice versa. If you have risk factors for either condition, talk with your doctor about ways to manage them.

If you have heart or kidney failure, take your medications as prescribed and follow the diet and lifestyle changes your doctor recommends. You and your doctor can work together to protect your organs.