Background: Diabetic nephropathy is a major cause of renal failure. The decline in glomerular filtration rate (GFR) is highly variable, ranging from 2 to 20, with a median of 12 mL/min/year. The risk factors of losing filtration power (progression promoters) have not been clearly identified. Furthermore, information on optimal arterial blood pressure, glycemic control, and cholesterol levels are lacking.
Methods: We measured GFR with (51)Cr-EDTA plasma clearance technique, blood pressure, albuminuria, glycosylated hemoglobin A1c, and serum cholesterol every year for seven years (range 3 to 14 years) in 301 consecutive type 1 diabetic patients with diabetic nephropathy recruited consecutively during 1983 through 1997. Diabetic nephropathy was diagnosed clinically if the following criteria were fulfilled: persistent albuminuria> 200 microg/min, presence of diabetic retinopathy, and no evidence of other kidney or renal tract disease. In total, 271 patients received antihypertensive treatment at the end of the observation period.
Results: Mean arterial blood pressure was 102 +/- 0.4 (SE) mm Hg. The average decline in GFR was 4.0 +/- 0.2 mL/min/year and even lower (1.9 +/- 0.5 mL/min/year) in the 30 persistently normotensive patients, none of whom had ever received antihypertensive treatment (P < 0.01). A multiple linear regression analysis revealed a significant positive correlation between the decline in GFR and mean arterial blood pressure, albuminuria, glycosylated hemoglobin A(1c), and serum cholesterol during follow-up (R(adj)(2) = 0.29, P < or = 0.001). No threshold level for blood pressure, glycosylated hemoglobin A(1c), or serum cholesterol was demonstrated. A two-hit model with mean arterial blood pressure and glycosylated hemoglobin A(1c) below and above the median values (102 mm Hg and 9.2%, respectively) revealed a rate of decline in GFR of only 1.5 mL/min/year in the lowest stratum compared with 6.1 mL/min/year in the highest stratum (P < 0.001).
Conclusions: The prognosis of diabetic nephropathy has improved during the past decades, predominantly because of effective antihypertensive treatment. Genuine normotensive patients have a slow progression of nephropathy. Several modifiable variables have been identified as progression promoters.