Rare, Deadly Disease More Likely in Obese Women on Dialysis

Obese Caucasian women over 50 with kidney failure most likely to develop calciphylaxis

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Scientists don’t fully understand calciphylaxis, a rare and potentially deadly blood vessel condition. But new research points to some of the major factors linked to the disease.

Calciphylaxis creates what researchers have described as a “biological cement” that inflames blood vessels, increasing risk of infection and skin ulcers.

Although the exact cause of calciphylaxis is unknown, new research found that those with the highest risk of developing the disease were obese, Caucasian women over the age of 50 with diabetes and being treated for kidney failure with dialysis.

"Talk to your doctor about risks of dialysis, diabetes and obesity."

Lu Huber, MD, assistant professor of nephrology at Georgia Regents University’s Medical College of Georgia, led the research team behind this study.

Dr. Huber and colleagues used data from the United States Renal Data System to analyze the causes of calciphylaxis, which occurs when phosphorous and calcium bind together. The disease is mostly found in dialysis patients.

Dialysis, a process that replaces kidney function in patients with kidney failure, is a treatment in which a patient's blood is filtered through an external machine. The procedure is commonly conducted three times each week.

Dr. Huber and team found that calciphylaxis occurred in 459 of 2,133,440 (0.02 percent) patients with kidney failure.

The average age of these patients was 50.4 years. A total of 71 percent of the patients were women, and 59 percent were Caucasian.

Further, the study found that of the 459 study participants with calciphylaxis, 429 (93.5 percent) were receiving some form of dialysis; 79.1 percent were considered obese; 65.8 had diabetes; and 47.7 percent had coronary artery disease.

The average time between the first dialysis treatment and onset of calciphylaxis was less than four years. The average survival time after diagnosis was 176 days.

"We are not completely sure why calciphylaxis happens,” Dr. Huber said in a prepared statement, “but mostly it's in dialysis patients.”

Dr. Huber said that the calcium-phosphorous deposits build up in blood vessels, which become stiff and narrow, leading to not enough blood supply. In turn, a lack of blood supply contributes to tissue death and sets the stage for infection, according to the research.  

Dr. Huber and her colleagues concluded that physicians overseeing patients on dialysis should be aware of the high-risk population and may recommend dietary changes and more regular dialysis, among other treatments.

This research was presented as an abstract at the 51st European Renal Association-European Dialysis and Transplant Association Congress held May 31 to June 3 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Dr. Huber and team did not report any relevant conflicts of interest.

The Renal Data System, which Dr. Huber used for her analysis, is funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Review Date: 
June 5, 2014
Last Updated:
June 6, 2014