A University-based data project has found patients with kidney disease are living longer than in the past.

The United States Renal Data System, whose coordinating center is located in the School of Public Health Building, reported fewer cases of end-stage renal disease and fewer deaths related to it in the U.S. this year compared to last year in its annual data report.

As of 2012, there were 636,905 people in the United States being treated for end-stage renal disease, which worsens or eliminates the kidney’s ability to function and support the body’s needs. The kidneys filter wastes and toxins out of the body’s blood supply, making them an essential organ for supporting life.

Treatments for end-stage renal disease include dialysis — a method through which blood is purified clinically, or kidney transplant.

Rajiv Saran, a professor of internal medicine and the associate director of the University’s Kidney Epidemiology and Cost Center, said the report shows a declining trend in the growth rate of new cases of the disease.

“The USRDS registers and tracks every patient diagnosed with end-stage renal disease,” Saran said. “For the last three years, the rate of appearance of patients reaching end-stage has decreased.”

Saran said the data indicates an improvement in U.S. health care. After the age of 30 to 35, the body’s organ functions start declining. Low kidney function coupled with risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity makes the body more prone to end-stage renal disease. Fewer cases of this disease indicate an increased focus on addressing risk factors for the disease.

Though 14 percent of U.S. adults suffer from chronic kidney disease, which can eventually lead to end-stage renal failure, Saran said awareness of the condition is low in comparison to illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease.

“We need more awareness; we need people to practice primary and secondary prevention,” he said. “Less than 20 percent of those diagnosed with the disease are aware of their low kidney functions.”

To prevent the chronic condition, Saran also noted the importance of monitoring kidney function patients coming in and out of the University of Michigan Health System. Primary prevention, which involves screening for risk factors, is the first step toward overcoming this challenge and accelerating the decline in the incidence of the disease.

“Non-communicable diseases such as these need early attention,” Saran said. “We need to take action sooner.”

Saran said transplants and dialysis have helped keep people with chronic kidney disease alive longer, which is why fewer people are reaching end-stage renal disease. Even so, the pool of patients diagnosed with the chronic disease is not declining. In Ann Arbor, dialysis units have been cropping up increasingly in the last three years.

“The pool of sick people still continues to increase,” Saran said. “A chronic disease does not go away.”

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