Sniffing out the Root Cause of Malnutrition in Patients with Kidney Disease

More than 25 million adults in the U.S. have chronic kidney disease, with more than half a million requiring dialysis.

While kidney disease is challenging enough on its own, many patients also suffer from malnutrition at the same time. They lose interest in food, reporting that it has little flavor or an unpleasant taste. Despite the known connection between sense of smell and taste, little research has been done to investigate the impact of loss of smell on nutrition in patients with kidney disease.

To better understand this potential association, Teodor Pà†unescu, PhD, Sagar Nigwekar, MD, both from the Division of Nephrology, and their team enrolled 160 participants with either end-stage kidney disease on dialysis, chronic kidney disease not yet at the end stage, or healthy control subjects with neither condition.

They found that those with end-stage kidney disease had greater reductions in their ability to identify specific odors and ability to detect odors. These patients also had a poorer nutritional status than participants with a better sense of smell.

In a small pilot study conducted concurrently, the team found that theophylline – a drug approved to treat asthma and emphysema – increased sense of smell in five of the seven participants with dialysis-dependent, end-stage kidney disease.

The team now plans to conduct larger studies to better understand loss of smell and further explore the use of drugs such as theophylline to treat kidney disease patients and prevent malnutrition.

Learn more in this Mass General press release.


Potentially Dangerous Pregnancy Complication Leads to Significant Health and Cost Burdens for Mothers and Their Babies

Preeclampsia is a condition characterized by high blood pressure that only occurs during pregnancy (after 20 weeks) and up to six weeks after delivery. Preeclampsia can’t be reversed and currently the only “cure” is delivery of the baby.  

Rates of preeclampsia are also rising rapidly. Since 1980, cases have increased steadily from 2.4% to about 5% today. Although preeclampsia has affected pregnant women for many years, the true cause remains unknown.

Women affected by preeclampsia are at an increased long-term risk for cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks and hypertension, and liver or kidney failure in the years and decades after delivery. Preeclampsia can also cause short- and long-term health complications for the baby including low birth weight, and cerebral palsy, epilepsy, blindness and deafness later in life. In addition, the baby may suffer the effects of prematurity if delivered early.

Taking into account the level of care needed to treat mothers and babies affected by the condition, a team of researchers including Anupam B. Jena, MD, PhD, from the Department of Medicine, calculated that the cost of preeclampsia within the first 12 months after birth is $2.18 billion in the United States.  Considering the short- and long-term health risks associated with preeclampsia for both the mother and the baby, this number is only a mere minimum estimate of the total economic and health burden imposed by the condition.

These results underscore the need to do more to understand the disorder and prevent it from occurring.

Read more about the study.


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