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Dialysis Patients Do Better at Higher Altitudes
Date:2/3/2009

Researchers say finding may one day lead to better treatment for those living near sea level

TUESDAY, Feb. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Dialysis patients who call higher altitudes home may live longer than patients residing at sea level.

According to a new study from Harvard researchers publishing in the Feb. 4 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, patients on dialysis living at elevations upwards of 4,000 feet have a 12 percent to 15 percent lower mortality rate than their lowland counterparts.

This information is immediately valuable in helping scientists untangle the biochemistry of kidney function and raising questions to be answered by future research.

"This information helps us understand what's happening to dialysis patients, their status and long-term outlook," said Dr. Jules Puschett, vice dean for program development at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and a nephrologist with Scott & White in Temple, Texas. "We need to verify this with a prospective analysis."

One day, though, this data may translate into therapies that improve mortality even at sea level.

Researchers had previously noted that individuals with end-stage renal disease who lived at higher altitudes paradoxically achieved higher hemoglobin concentrations (hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells) even while receiving lower doses of erythropoietin, a hormone which stimulates the production of red blood cells.

Possibly, less oxygen available at such elevations leads to more mobilization from the body's iron stores, therefore more efficient production of red blood cells (a process known as erythropoiesis), the researchers hypothesized.

This retrospective study followed more than 800,000 patients in the United States who started dialysis between 1995 and 2004.

After just under a year of follow-up, the mortality rate was 220.1 per 1,000 person-years
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