Reverse epidemiology of cardiovascular risk factors in maintenance dialysis patients

Kidney Int. 2003 Mar;63(3):793-808. doi: 10.1046/j.1523-1755.2003.00803.x.


Conventional risk factors of cardiovascular disease and mortality in the general population such as body mass, serum cholesterol, and blood pressure are also found to relate to outcome in maintenance dialysis patients, but often in an opposite direction. Obesity, hypercholesterolemia, and hypertension appear to be protective features that are associated with a greater survival among dialysis patients. A similar protective role has been described for high serum creatinine and possibly homocysteine levels in end-stage renal disease (ESRD) patients. These findings are in contrast to the well-known association between over-nutrition and poor outcome in the general population. The association between under-nutrition and adverse cardiovascular outcome in dialysis patients, which stands in contrast to that seen in non-ESRD individuals, has been referred to as "reverse epidemiology." Publication bias may have handicapped or delayed additional reports with such paradoxical findings in ESRD patients. The etiology of this inverse association between conventional risk factors and clinical outcome in dialysis patients is not clear. Several possible causes are hypothesized. First, survival bias may play a role since only a small number of patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) survive long enough to reach ESRD. Hence, the dialysis patients are probably a distinctively selected population out of CKD patients and may not represent the risk factor constellations of their CKD predecessors. Second, the time discrepancy between competitive risk factors may play a role. For example, the survival disadvantages of under-nutrition, which is frequently present in dialysis patients, may have a major impact on mortality in a shorter period of time, and this overwhelms the long-term negative effects of over-nutrition on survival. Third, the presence of the "malnutrition-inflammation complex syndrome" (MICS) in dialysis patients may also explain the existence of reverse epidemiology in dialysis patients. Both protein-energy malnutrition and inflammation or the combination of the two are much more common in dialysis patients than in the general population and many elements of MICS, such as low weight-for-height, hypocholesterolemia, or hypocreatininemia, are known risk factors of poor outcome in dialysis patients. The existence of reverse epidemiology may have a bearing on the management of dialysis patients. It is possible that new standards or goals for such traditional risk factors as body mass, serum cholesterol, and blood pressure should be considered for these individuals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / epidemiology*
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / therapy*
  • Renal Dialysis*
  • Risk Factors