Researchers at the University of Colorado analyzed global data and discovered that chronic kidney disease is on the rise in rural communities located in hot regions, where diabetes and high blood pressure are not widespread. The individuals who appear to be at the highest risk for developing kidney disease are poor agricultural workers who spend long days performing manual labor in the heat.
This isn’t the first study that has pointed to a link between heat and kidney disease. A 2015 study found high rates of kidney disease in sugarcane workers in El Salvador, and researchers posited that these cases of kidney damage could be the result of recurrent dehydration and repeated high-intensity work in a hot environment.
Treatment for Kidney Disease
Kidney disease progresses gradually over time, and in early stages, it can often only be diagnosed through a blood test. Chronic kidney disease may be controlled with medication at first, but in later stages, patients may require kidney dialysis--a costly procedure that involves artificially filtering waste and unwanted water from their blood.
Dialysis Process Diagram
If left untreated, kidney disease can cause painful symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, swelling of the feet and hands, muscle cramps, chest pain, and difficulty breathing. Eventually, the kidneys can shut down completely, leading to death.
In many of the rural equatorial regions currently experiencing kidney disease epidemics, treatment options are limited.
Kidney Disease Incidence Rises with Global Temperatures
The increase in kidney disease cases in areas including Central America, Sri Lanka, Egypt, and India suggests a link between climate change and heat-related kidney damage. Global temperatures have increased by approximately 1 degree Celsius (just under 2 degrees Fahrenheit) and are expected to rise another 3-4 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century. And as the global temperature has gone up, so has the number of extreme heat waves.
While it may only be a partial solution, the researchers who led the University of Colorado study suggest that improving hydration and worksite practices in hot regions may help curb the incidence and mitigate the causes of kidney disease.