American Heart Association Announces CKM Syndrome to Describe ‘Strong Connection’ between Multiple Diseases
Newly-defined Cardiovascular-Kidney-Metabolic Syndrome (CKM) means physicians will be in close collaboration with clinical laboratories to make accurate diagnoses
Based on newly-identified “strong connections” between cardiovascular disease (CVD, or heart disease), kidney disease, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity, the American Heart Association (AHA) is calling for a “redefining” of the risk, prevention, and management of CVD, according to an AHA news release.
In a presidential advisory, the AHA defines a newly described systemic health disorder called Cardiovascular-Kidney-Metabolic Syndrome (CKM). The syndrome “is a systemic disorder characterized by pathophysiological interactions among metabolic risk factors, CKD (chronic kidney disease), and the cardiovascular system leading to multi-organ failure and a high rate of adverse cardiovascular outcomes.”
A CKM diagnosis, which is meant to identify patients who are at high risk of dying from heart disease, is based on a combination of risk factors, including:
- weight problems,
- issues with blood pressure, cholesterol, and/or blood sugar,
- reduced kidney function.
CKM is a new term and doctors will be ordering medical laboratory tests associated with diagnosing patients with multiple symptoms to see if they match this diagnosis. Thus, clinical laboratory managers and pathologists will want to follow the adoption/implementation of this new recommendation.
The AHA published its findings in its journal Circulation titled, “Cardiovascular-Kidney-Metabolic Health: A Presidential Advisory from the American Heart Association.”
“The advisory addresses the connections among these conditions with a particular focus on identifying people at early stages of CKM syndrome,” said Chiadi Ndumele, MD, PhD (above), Associate Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University and one of the authors of the AHA paper, in a news release. “Screening for kidney and metabolic disease will help us start protective therapies earlier to most effectively prevent heart disease and best manage existing heart disease.” Clinical laboratories will play a key role in those screenings and in diagnosis of the new syndrome. (Photo copyright: Johns Hopkins University.)
Stages of CKM Syndrome
In its presidential advisory, the AHA wrote, “Cardiovascular-Kidney-Metabolic (CKM) syndrome is defined as a health disorder attributable to connections among obesity, diabetes, chronic kidney disease (CKD), and cardiovascular disease (CVD), including heart failure, atrial fibrillation, coronary heart disease, stroke, and peripheral artery disease. CKM syndrome includes those at risk for CVD and those with existing CVD.”
The five stages of CKM syndrome, which the AHA provided to give a framework for patients to work towards regression of the syndrome, are:
- Stage 0: No CKM risk factors. Individuals should be screened every three to five years for blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, and for maintaining a healthy body weight.
- Stage 1: Excess body fat and/or an unhealthy distribution of body fat, such as abdominal obesity, and/or impaired glucose tolerance or prediabetes. Patients have risk factors such as weight problems or prediabetes and are encouraged to make healthy lifestyle changes and try to lose at least 5% of their body weight.
- Stage 2: Metabolic risk factors and kidney disease. Includes people who already have Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, and/or kidney disease. Medications that target kidney function, lower blood sugar, and which help with weight loss should be considered at this stage to prevent diseases of the heart and blood vessels or kidney failure.
- Stage 3: Early cardiovascular disease without symptoms in people with metabolic risk factors or kidney disease or those at high predicted risk for cardiovascular disease. People show signs of disease in their arteries, or have heart function issues, or may have already had a stroke or heart attack or have kidney or heart failure. Medication may also be needed at this stage.
- Stage 4: Symptomatic cardiovascular disease in people with excess body fat, metabolic risk factors or kidney disease. In this stage, people are categorized as with or without having kidney failure. May also have already had a heart attack, stroke or heart failure, or cardiovascular conditions such as peripheral artery disease or atrial fibrillation.
“We now have several therapies that prevent both worsening kidney disease and heart disease,” said Chiadi Ndumele, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University and one of the authors of the Circulation paper, in a news release. “The advisory provides guidance for healthcare professionals about how and when to use those therapies, and for the medical community and general public about the best ways to prevent and manage CKM syndrome.”
According to an AHA 2023 Statistical Update, one in three adults in the US have three or more risk factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, or kidney disease. While CKM affects nearly every major organ in the body, it has the biggest impact on the cardiovascular system where it can affect the blood vessels, heart muscle function, the rate of fatty buildup in the arteries, electrical impulses in the heart and more.
“There is a need for fundamental changes in how we educate healthcare professionals and the public, how we organize care and how we reimburse care related to CKM syndrome,” Ndumele noted. “Key partnerships among stakeholders are needed to improve access to therapies, to support new care models, and to make it easier for people from diverse communities and circumstances to live healthier lifestyles and to achieve ideal cardiovascular health.”
New AHA Risk Calculator
In November, the AHA announced PREVENT (Predicting risk of cardiovascular disease EVENTs), a tool that doctors can use to assess a person’s risk for heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. The new risk calculator, which incorporates CKM, allows physicians to evaluate younger people as well, and examine their long-term risks for cardiovascular issues.
“A new cardiovascular disease risk calculator was needed, particularly one that includes measures of CKM syndrome,” said Sadiya Khan, MD, Professor of Cardiovascular Epidemiology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, in an AHA news story.
Doctors can use PREVENT to assess people ages 30 to 79 and predict risk for heart attack, stroke, or heart failure over 10 to 30 years.
“Longer-term estimates are important because short-term or 10-year risk in most young adults is still going to be low. We wanted to think more broadly and apply a life-course perspective,” Khan said. “Providing information on 30-year risk may reveal earlier opportunities for intervention and prevention efforts in younger people.”
According to CDC data, about 695,000 people died of heart disease in the US in 2021. That equates to one in every five deaths. Clinical pathologists will need to understand the AHA recommendations and how doctors will be ordering clinical laboratory tests to determine if a patient has CKM. Then, labs will play a role in helping doctors monitor patients to optimize health and prevent acute episodes that put patients in the hospital.