Focus on heart disease and kidney disease

Your heart and kidneys are strongly connected – anything that affects your kidneys affects your heart, and vice versa. So how exactly are the two linked?

Your heart is a muscle pumping oxygen-rich blood around your body through blood vessels. Together, the heart, blood vessels and blood are known as your cardiovascular system.

When the blood reaches your kidneys, they get rid of excess fluid and waste and return the cleaned blood to your body. So when there’s a problem with your heart, it can put pressure on your kidneys. And if your kidneys aren’t working properly, that’s likely to affect your heart and blood vessels.

What is heart disease?

This is a term for any condition affecting your heart or blood vessels that stops your heart pumping blood in the way it should. Doctors often call it ‘cardiovascular disease’. It covers a few different conditions, including:

  • coronary artery disease, where your arteries get furred up
  • a heart attack, when there’s a sudden loss of blood flow to a part of your heart
  • a blood clot that blocks blood flow to your heart
  • heart failure, when your heart isn’t working as hard as it should to pump blood around your body
  • heart rhythm problems like atrial fibrillation, which make your heart beat irregularly

How does heart disease damage your kidneys?

There are a few different ways heart disease can lead to kidney problems.

  • Kidney disease and heart disease share two key underlying causes – high blood pressure and diabetes – which can damage your kidneys as well as causing heart problems.
  • Heart failure is a significant risk factor for CKD – as your heart doesn’t pump efficiently, blood builds up in the vein that links the heart to the kidneys. This causes congestion in your kidneys, which can put pressure on them. And because your kidneys aren’t getting enough oxygen-rich blood, they can become damaged.
  • When your kidneys aren’t working properly, your body tries to boost blood supply to them, which leads to higher pressure in your arteries. This can force your heart to work harder.

Finding out about your heart health

Your GP, practice nurse or pharmacist can carry out simple tests that give some clues about the health of your heart.

If you’re over 40 years old, you’re entitled to a free NHS Health Check every five years. It gives you some important information about your risk of conditions including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and kidney disease. The person carrying out your NHS Health Check will:

  • ask you questions about your lifestyle and family history
  • check whether you’re a healthy weight for your height
  • take your blood pressure
  • carry out a blood test to check your cholesterol levels, and your blood sugar level
  • give you information about your heart risk and guidance on next steps, such as advice to lower your risk or a referral for further tests, if needed.

If you’re not eligible for an NHS Health Check but you’re concerned about your heart health, talk to your GP.

Keeping your heart healthy

What’s good for your heart is good for your kidneys – and the rest of your body. In general, the best ways to keep your heart healthy include:

  • losing weight if you need to
  • not smoking
  • having a healthy, balanced diet, with lots of fruit, vegetables and whole grains
  • keeping your salt intake low
  • making sure you drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week
  • being active most days of the week
  • managing stress
  • making sure diabetes and high blood pressure are well managed, if you’re affected

If you already have heart or kidney disease

Your doctor should check the health of your kidneys at your regular appointments if you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease.

If you already have CKD, your healthcare team will monitor your heart and give you special lifestyle advice to reduce your risk of heart disease, or to stop it getting worse.

Treating heart disease and CKD

The healthy lifestyle steps above are a good start to managing both conditions but your healthcare team will give you some specific advice about lifestyle changes. For example, you may be referred to a dietitian who specialises in kidney health. Your doctor may also prescribe medicines to help treat both conditions.

AstraZeneca has contributed to the funding of this material as part of a Patient Advocacy Group Partnership between Kidney Care UK and AstraZeneca UK Limited. AstraZeneca has had no editorial input into or control over the content which has been independently owned and created by Kidney Care UK.

Treating heart disease