Kidney problems linked to traffic fumes

car exhaust
Image caption Exhaust fumes can contain harmful gases

Living close to a busy road may increase your risk of developing kidney problems, research suggests.

The US investigators who discovered a link in 1,100 patients believe traffic pollution could harm the arteries that supply the kidneys.

Experts already know that long-term exposure to exhaust fumes increases the risk of vascular diseases such as heart attacks and stroke.

The work is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The study authors, Dr Murray Mittleman and colleagues at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, measured kidney function using a recognised test called the glomerular filtration rate (GFR).

The GFR is an indicator of how well the kidneys are working. A low GFR suggests kidney problems.

Half of the stroke patients in the study lived within 1km of a major road in the Boston metropolitan region, and the rest lived between 1km and 10km (six miles) away.

Polluted air

Those patients who lived closest to a major road had the lowest GFR even after taking account of factors such as age, sex, race, smoking and other underlying medical conditions.

The difference in GFR between these patients and those who lived further away from traffic pollution was comparable to a reduction in GFR associated with being four years older, the researchers say.

Dr Tim Chico, a heart expert at the University of Sheffield in the UK, said: "The importance of healthy kidneys is often overlooked, but many of the things that can damage the heart also affect these vital organs.

"Many people are unaware of the close link between heart and kidney disease, but problems with one often lead to problems with the other."

For example, most people with kidney disease had high blood pressure, which increased risk of heart disease, while heart disease and its treatment frequently placed a strain on kidney function, he said.

"Since we know traffic pollution increases the risk of heart disease, the message of this study - that traffic pollution might damage the kidneys - is perhaps to be expected.

"The responsibility to reduce traffic pollution falls on everyone, and this study is yet another reason - as if we needed one - to travel on foot or bike where possible."

But he cautioned that the current study only showed a link - it does not prove living next to a road definitely affects kidney function.

The researchers were unable to control for all socio-economic factors and all of the patients in the study had recently suffered a stroke.

They say more studies looking at different groups of people are needed to confirm the findings.

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