Major Study to Begin on Pain Relievers and Kidney Failure

For immediate release: November 17, 1999

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The University of Maryland School of Medicine will join five other academic medical institutions in a new, three-year study to learn whether pain relievers contribute significantly to kidney damage in the U.S. The initiative, called the National Analgesic Nephropathy Study, will be funded by a $2.9 million contract from the National Institutes of Health.

"There is evidence that people who consume pain relievers every day for years are at risk of developing kidney damage," says William Henrich, M.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Medical Center. Dr. Henrich, who is the coordinating investigator for the study, adds that the precise relationship between the use of analgesics and kidney disease has not yet been determined.

"This will be the most rigorous study of analgesic-related kidney failure to date," says Joseph Shapiro, M.D., chairman of the Department of Medicine at the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo and principal investigator of the study. "In addition to learning the extent of kidney failure due to the chronic use of pain relievers, we will also study the diagnostic reliability of the abdominal computerized tomography x-ray (CT scan) as a diagnostic tool."

The relationship between chronic analgesic use and kidney disease is important, Dr. Henrich notes, because millions of Americans consume these medications daily for arthritis, headaches and other painful conditions. Prior studies have suggested that the main risk may come from products that combine different types of analgesics in one pill, and one aim of the study is to determine whether a particular type of pain reliever is more commonly associated with kidney disease.

The study will include more than 300 people. Of that group, 200 will be patients with chronic kidney failure who will receive an abdominal CT scan and be asked about past use of analgesics. The other participants will either have a CT scan or be asked to respond to a questionnaire.

In addition to the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the Medical College of Ohio, researchers from the following institutions will participate in the National Analgesic Nephropathy Study: Oregon Health Sciences University, Boston University, the University of North Carolina and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

"We are pleased that the National Institutes of Health has funded this important study to examine the magnitude of analgesic-related kidney disease," says Joel Kopple, M.D., president of the National Kidney Foundation (NKF). "A consensus conference convened by the NKF in 1995 concluded that the intake of large quantities of analgesics over a period of years may cause severe, irreversible kidney failure. Many questions were raised by that conference and we have high expectations that this new study will answer them."

Until more information is available, prevention of kidney damage is very important since there are no early symptoms of kidney disease, according to Dr. Henrich. "The problem is often silent and by the time it is diagnosed, renal failure may be advanced." He adds that people who take pain relievers daily should be followed closely by their physicians for signs of kidney damage.

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