New Study Finds Kidney Disease Elevates Risk of Sudden Cardiac Arrest Risk in Hispanic/Latino Communities

Person shaking hands with doctor in office

According to the CDC1, every year, more than 356,000 people in the US suffer from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), where their heart unexpectedly stops beating. Saving their lives is a race against time, but the odds are daunting. 60% to 80% of people who experience SCA die before ever reaching the hospital. Is there a key to stopping this life-threatening condition?

A groundbreaking study2 of SCA in the Hispanic/Latino community by researchers at the Smidt Heart Institute, Cedars-Sinai Health System, Los Angeles aimed to find the answer. They found that chronic kidney disease is the most significant risk factor for Hispanics/Latinos who had sudden cardiac arrest.

Key takeaway

Protecting your kidney health may help lower your risk of SCA. Take this one-minute quiz to learn your risk of developing kidney disease. It may just save your life!

The study

The team set out to find out if there were any risk factors for cardiac arrest in the Hispanic/Latino community. To do so, they compared 295 Hispanic/Latino adults who experienced SCA to 590 Hispanic/Latino adults who did not. They also took age, gender, and other variables into consideration.

The results were clear.

An overwhelming number of people had kidney problems. 51% of the cases had a kidney disease diagnosis before SCA, and 20% were on dialysis.

Other SCA risk factors included:

  • Existing cardiovascular disease: The umbrella term for disorders affecting the heart or blood vessels.
  • Stroke: Blood supply is blocked to part of the brain.
  • Atrial fibrillation: Heartbeat is irregular and/or rapid.
  • Coronary artery disease: The blood vessels become stiff, narrow, or clogged.
  • Heart failure: The heart cannot pump well enough to move blood.
  • Heavy drinking: For women, heavy drinking is 8 drinks or more per week. For men, heavy drinking is 15 drinks or more per week.3

The study also found that diabetes was a risk factor but to a much lesser degree.

Study limitations

The study focused on Hispanic/Latino individuals in Southern California. Most were of Mexican heritage. Since people living in other regions were not accounted for, the results may only apply to some Hispanic/Latino people. Other differences between the case and control group may have been not accounted for.

Read the complete study.

The kidney-heart connection

There is a reason why kidney disease can lead to heart problems. The kidneys and the heart depend on each other. The heart provides the oxygen-rich blood that the kidneys need to do their job. The kidneys clean the blood that the heart pumps throughout the body.

Kidney disease and dialysis can cause the heart to work harder. The harder it works, the more likely it is to grow larger and thicker. If the heart becomes too large or weak, it won’t be able to pump blood through the body properly.

For some on dialysis, heart function can decline to the point where the patient can no longer continue treatment.

“When my father, who spent a total of 24 years on dialysis, was admitted to the hospital, he had 10% heart function. The nurses were flabbergasted at how he was able to sit up and talk with people. He had the option for surgery but it was risky. Even if that was successful, he would have only gained around 5% more heart function which wouldn’t have been enough for him to continue dialysis,” said Aaron Lovato, a living kidney donor for his father.” He arrived home under hospice care on November 1st. My mother, my siblings, and I stayed by his side during his last days making sure he was comfortable and administering pain relief. On November 5th, at 3:00 am, he peacefully passed away.”

Learn more about the kidney-heart connection.

Kidney Disease in the Hispanic/Latino Community

Hispanic/Latinos are not more likely to develop kidney disease. However, they are more likely to be diagnosed with kidney failure and experience a more rapid decline in kidney health.4,5 Increased rates of kidney failure are not due to any one reason. It’s the result of many factors called social determinants of health.
Social determinants of health encompass many aspects of daily life, including;
  • Access to preventive care
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Access to healthy foods
  • Safe spaces to play and exercise
  • Education
  • Insurance

Elizabeth Archuleta, a later-stage kidney disease patient, experienced several social determinants of health firsthand.

“I was diagnosed with kidney disease with insurance. This was before the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, so when the insurance company heard my diagnosis they were allowed to kick me off of it. Being newly diagnosed without insurance was tough. Having an unfamiliar condition but not knowing what caused it was really challenging for me,” said Elizabeth. “I had to navigate low-income insurance and visit low-cost clinics where I received multiple misdiagnoses.”

Elizabeth’s mother has since donated a kidney through an exchange program, which allows donors to “swap” kidneys with other compatible recipients on the waitlist. Now, Elizabeth will be first on the list when the time is right.

Unfortunately, many others are not as lucky–Hispanic/Latino people face significant barriers to kidney transplantation.6

“Hispanic/Latino patients are less likely to be waitlisted and have a living donor,” Dr. Rosas, NKF President, said. “Language barriers, finances, and not having a support person are all reasons they may not be able to get evaluated. Undocumented immigrants and people who are uninsured also have a difficult time accessing the transplant system.”

NKF finds these disparities unacceptable. We launched Transplants for All to fight inequities in transplantation and help everyone who needs a transplant get one.

Find all the resources you need to start your transplant journey.

How to protect your heart and kidneys

The good news is that there are many actions you can take to start protecting your kidney and heart health. Speak to your healthcare provider before starting, stopping, or changing your diet or lifestyle.

Ten tips to help you take control of your heart and kidney health:

  1. Test your kidney function frequently
  2. Follow a heart-healthy diet
  3. Monitor or control blood sugar
  4. Maintain a healthy weight
  5. Regularly exercise
  6. Control your blood pressure
  7. Avoid or limit anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  8. Take medications as directed by your healthcare provider
  9. Stop or avoid smoking
  10. Reduce stress

Remember, when you care for your kidneys, you care for your heart. When you care for your heart, you take care of your kidneys. Have questions? NKF Cares can help.