In recent years, mortality of patients in haemodialysis has decreased due to improvements in technique. According to the United States Renal Data System, life expectancy of patients once they start haemodialysis ranges between 8 and 4.5 years. Increasing length of time on dialysis is a related to higher mortality rates .
In the present study, we explore the predictive value of CaCs for total and CV mortality in advanced CKD and haemodialysis population. Our results point out that CaCs≥400 HU could be a predictor of higher CV mortality in this population, on a long-term basis. Unfortunately, we were not able to identify a clear relationship between CaCs and overall mortality in the whole sample. A possible limitation of the study might be the use of a relatively small sample size; therefore, further studies should be designed to explore this hypothesis.
In addition, we found that a doubling of the CaC score increased the estimated probability of CV mortality by approximately 43% in a 10-year period. In the Detrano study, subjects aged 45 to 84 years with no clinical cardiovascular disease before enrolment were followed for a median of 3.8 years; authors found that a doubling of calcium score resulted in a 20% increase in the risk of a major coronary event (myocardial infarction or death from coronary heart disease) . Our findings support previous studies that examined the relationship between CaC measured by MSCT and mortality in advanced CKD patients. These studies were performed mostly in advanced CKD patients and haemodialysis patients separately [10, 20,21,22], whereas we have preferred to include both types of patients together in our analysis. Moreover, to our knowledge, present data include the longest follow-up period in these patients until now.
In CKD patients, Watanabi et al. investigated a heterogeneous sample of 117 non dialyzed patients with CKD stages 2 to 5. After a follow-up period of 24 months, they found that the presence of CaCs ≥400 HU was associated with a shorter cardiovascular and hospitalization event-free time and a lower survival rate . Recently, Chen et al. have addressed, in larger CKD cohort with a long follow-up, the association between CaC measured by MSCT and the risk of CV disease and mortality . They found that CaCs is related to risk of CV diseases and improves risk predicted models. However, there are some notably differences with our current research: Chen et al. included only 20% of cases with an estimated glomerular filtration < 30 ml/min, specifically excluded haemodialysis patients, and only considered overall mortality. Although their main conclusions are completely valid, their results did not provide information about the prognostic value of CaC concerning CV mortality in advanced CKD, and it is in this aspect in which our results stress the value of this measurement in improving prognostic predictions.
Shantouf et al. found that haemodialysis patients with CaCs 0 HU had a higher rate of 6-year event-free survival (89%) compared to those with a CaCs> 400 HU (58%). After adjustment for standard CV risk factors and bone-mineral metabolism parameters, they reported a higher total mortality in CaCs> 400 HU group .
Some authors have suggested that CaCs could be an independent predictor of all-cause mortality in haemodialysis. After adjusting for other CV risk factors, Matsuoka et al. found that the 5-year cumulative survival rate was significantly different between patients with low CaCs (84%) compared to those with high CaCs (68%), although with an adjusted relative risk of death of 1.001 . Block et al. (2007) described that baseline CaCs> 400 HU was a significant predictor of all-cause mortality (HR 4.5, 95%CI 1.33–15.14) in 127 incident haemodialysis patients during a 4-year follow-up period .
In a 7-year follow-up study, reported by Shimoyama , which was carried out in 200 haemodialysis patients, 51% of deaths were related to CV events. Much lower CV mortality was found in the lowest CaCs and similar results were reported in all-cause mortality. In a prospective study of a similar sample size, Noce et al. also found a significant difference in CV mortality in patients with CaCs≤400, using Kaplan-Meier survival analysis, compared to those in the group of CaCs>400HU; 49.7% died due to a major CV event during the follow-up period of 7 years .
In our study, we did not include CV disease subtypes in Cox analysis. However, it would have been interesting to analyse the subtypes of CV mortality in the haemodialysis group according to their CaCs, since non-atheromatous CV events could predominate in these patients . Matsushita et al. just assessed CV disease subtype. The prediction model with CaC was superior to intima media thickness and ankle-brachial index, only for coronary heart disease and heart failure prediction, regardless of CKD status .
As reported by other authors, we found a high prevalence of CaC, ranging 0–8798 HU. This asymmetric distribution is consistent with other similar studies [6, 16, 26]. Moreover, patients with high CaCs had worse renal function than those with low CaCs. Also, there were more haemodialysis patients in the group of severe calcifications. This finding supports the inverse relationship between glomerular filtration rate and CaC [1, 7]. As reported in previous studies, we found that patients with high CaCs were older, with higher prevalence of previous cardiologic events and type 2 diabetes [2, 8, 10, 27]. It is well known that diabetes is a risk factor for developing atherosclerosis and vascular calcification [28, 29].
Our data showed that patients with high CaCs had lower albumin levels than patients with mild or moderate CaC. Malnutrition-inflammation complex syndrome is a common phenomenon in dialysis patients, and is related to increased morbidity and mortality. In dialysis patients, there seems to be an association between malnutrition-inflammation complex syndrome and vascular calcification [30, 31]. Therefore, lower albumin level, as a marker of malnutrition and inflammation, could be a risk marker of CaC. This finding, however, needs to be validated conducting larger sample prospective studies.
We did not find a significant association between CaC and any biochemical parameter related to mineral metabolism or other traditional CV risk parameters. This lack of association could be explained by the small sample size, the study design or the clinical characteristics of our cohort. It should be mentioned that biochemical parameters were measured only once at baseline, and a single baseline laboratory value may not reflect the time-averaged exposure.
Traditionally, hypercalcemia, hyperphosphatemia and secondary hyperparathyroidism have been associated with vascular calcification in patients with CKD. However, it has been described that excessive suppression of PTH, or relative hypoparathyroidism, leads to a decrease in bone remodelling or adynamic bone. It is also related to a greater progression of vascular and coronary calcification. Therefore, calcium and PTH levels do not always are correlated with net calcium balance and vascular calcification severity .
Therapeutic changes were not recorded, so might be they have had some influence on endpoints. In relation to this point, it is known that CKD and dialysis patients treated with non-calcium-based phosphate binders have a reduction in all-cause mortality compared with those that use calcium-based phosphate binders [33, 34]. Besides, it has been reported that a low dialysate calcium level could reduce progression rate of CaC in haemodialysis patients . Besides, the treatment provided to patients was aimed to control disturbances of mineral metabolism adequately, and this pharmacological intervention could have conditioned the results obtained. Another potential bias might be related to the design of the enrolment if it considered that those patients of incident haemodialysis and severe CaC might experience a premature death (< 6 months). Though, we set a minimum period of 6 months of permanence in the hemodialysis program to minimize this theoretical bias. Thus, those cases incident in hemodialysis, whose death in a period inferior to 6 months, were excluded. All enrolled cases were previously followed up in the Nephrologist outpatient office. And, in fact, the ANSWER study reports that the most potent predictor of early mortality was inadequate pre-dialysis treatment .
Moreover, CaC in our cohort was only measured just once, at baseline conditions. Therefore, we couldn’t report number of patients with CaCs < 400 HU who have change to CaCs > 400 HU during the follow up.