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Vitamin D Can Help Most Dialysis Patients

Study finds it extends lives regardless of parathyroid activity

THURSDAY, March 24, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Vitamin D injections can greatly improve survival for most kidney failure patients on dialysis, according to a new study.

Currently, vitamin D injections are recommended only for dialysis patients with elevated levels of parathyroid hormone -- which represents about 50 percent of kidney failure patients. But this Massachusetts General Hospital study found that vitamin D injections may help extend the lives of most kidney dialysis patients.

"We've been administering vitamin D injections for decades, but the potential benefit on survival has never been studied. This finding was a surprise and should force us to think more broadly about who should be treated," study senior author Dr. Ravi Thadhani, director of clinical research in MGH nephrology, said in a prepared statement.

Reporting in the April issue of the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, Thadhani's team analyzed data on more than 50,000 U.S. kidney patients who began dialysis between 1996 and 1999 and were tracked until 2002. More than 37,000 of the patients in the study received vitamin D injections.

At the end of the two-year study, 76 percent of the patients receiving vitamin D injections were still alive, compared with 59 percent of patients who didn't receive vitamin D. That difference was evident across all categories of patients, the researchers said. Even kidney dialysis patients with elevated calcium and phosphorous levels -- which often lead to discontinuation of treatment with vitamin D -- lived longer if they received the vitamin D injections.

The study authors said their findings must be confirmed by follow-up studies before more precise recommendations for vitamin D therapy can be made.

"While these results need to be verified, we at least need to be more aggressive in treating people that meet the current criteria. Thereafter we need to investigate what is the mechanism conferring this survival benefit. We are actively pursuing that with a focus on the effects of cardiovascular disease," said Thadhani, who is also an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

More information

The National Kidney Foundation has more about kidney dialysis.

SOURCE: Massachusetts General Hospital, news release, February 28, 2005
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