More than half of Americans are unfamiliar with chronic kidney disease, survey finds

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a major blind spot for many Americans, a new survey suggests.

The poll, conducted by the Global Coalition on Aging, asked 1,000 American adults about their understanding and perception of CKD.

Though many respondents used the internet for medical information and had a regular doctor and blood work done once or twice a year, 58% of respondents said they were unfamiliar with the illness. 

More than half of respondents had not thought about CKD at all, while a fifth had thought about it but had done no research, the coalition found. Only 9% had done a lot of research. At the same time, more than half were not concerned with managing CKD if diagnosed with it.

“People tend to deny their personal needs when it comes to chronic disease, which this survey reflected,” Michael Hodin, CEO of the Global Coalition on Aging, told Fierce Healthcare in an emailed Q&A. “We’ve never fully understood how to shift from communicable to noncommunicable diseases in terms of attitudes, awareness, behaviors.”

More than 1 in 7 U.S. adults, or 35.5 million people, are estimated to have CKD. CKD is a “silent” disease, with many symptoms not appearing until advanced stages of the disease.

If a doctor were to deliver a message that “250,000 die each year, simple tests covered by insurance,” 60% of respondents would be motivated to get the tests, per the poll. If suggested by a spouse, just over a third of respondents were motivated. 

Respondents over the age of 60, who are at greatest risk of the disease, were less familiar with CKD than younger respondents, even though they’re more likely to see a doctor twice a year. Greater awareness among young people could be attributed to social media exposure, which is where there is more attention to issues like CKD, Hodin said.

The consequence of many Americans not understanding CKD is “less healthy aging,” Hodin said. “When a chronic disease like CKD goes untreated, those patients will then require acute, emergency care, which is worse for them and adds cost and burden to the system,” he said.

The Global Coalition on Aging recommends creating roundtable discussions with relevant stakeholders, including CKD in blood screenings and other preventive actions and using social media to spread awareness. Additionally, it recommends building CKD information and risk attention into health programs of age-friendly cities, integrated care approaches and long-term care settings. And finally, it recommended working with employers to develop communication awareness for employees and their families.

Doctors and healthcare professionals have a key role to play in health education, Hodin said. Caregivers can also spread awareness and even enable treatment. But awareness is only one part of it. The other part is being able to treat the disease.

Pharma companies like Bayer, which develop therapies for CKD, can play an important role not only in treatment but in education and advocacy for the aging population, Hodin added. 

Bayer Pharmaceuticals is a member of the Global Coalition on Aging. The company’s chief medical officer Michael Devoy said Bayer is looking forward to applying the survey’s insights to better inform patients, caregivers and healthcare stakeholders.

“Chronic kidney disease is growing in prevalence across aging societies in the U.S. and elsewhere. Much more can be done to raise awareness that will lead to addressing the disease before it is too late while saving lives, improving patient care quality, enabling healthier aging, and better managing health systems costs,” Devoy said in a press release.