n Cardiovascular Journal of South Africa - The link between microalbuminuria, endothelial dysfunction and cardiovascular disease in diabetes : review article




Microalbuminuria (MA), i.e. slightly elevated albumin excretion in the urine, is now considered to be an atherosclerotic risk factor. MA predicts future cardiovascular disease in diabetic patients, in elderly patients, as well as in the general population. It has been implicated as an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease and premature cardiovascular mortality for patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus, as well as for patients with essential hypertension.

Although microalbuminuria is associated with a certain degree of sub-clinical atherosclerotic damage, it is not known how early in the atherosclerotic process microalbuminuria appears. Epidemiological studies have shown an association between MA and insulin resistance, obesity, salt sensitivity and dyslipidaemia in patients with essential hypertension and diabetes. Patients with microalbuminuria are also characterised by an increased prevalence of left ventricular hypertrophy and retinal microvascular lesions. Microalbuminuria is associated with an excess of other cardiovascular risk factors. The mechanisms linking microalbuminuria and risk for cardiovascular disease are not fully understood, but in subjects at risk it may be related to increased transvascular leakiness of albumin in systemic as well as renal vessels. A recent concept is that albuminuria is a marker of extensive endothelial dysfunction or generalised vasculopathy, which may lead to heightened atherogenic states. One possible explanation is that endothelial dysfunction might promote increased penetration of atherogenic lipoprotein particles in the arterial wall, but glycaemic status, insulin resistance, procoagulant state and adhesion molecules have all been implicated in the pathogenesis.
Current evidence suggests that tight blood pressure control may reduce the risk of microalbuminuria in diabetic patients with hypertension and that inhibitors of the renin-angiotensin system (RAS) can prevent or delay the progression of microalbuminuria to overt nephropathy in normotensive persons. ACE inhibitors are currently recognised as first-line antihypertensive therapy in diabetic patients with proteinuria, and these agents afford unique benefits in modifying the progression and severity of cardiovascular disease (CVD) as well as of diabetic nephropathy.
Whether albuminuria is a risk factor or just a marker for CV disease, it identifies the high-risk diabetic patient who should be targeted for early, aggressive intervention against proven risk factors. If persistent microalbuminuria is confirmed, strict blood pressure control with added RAS inhibition should be pursued in an attempt to stabilise or even reduce microalbuminuria, preserve kidney function and possibly improve cardiovascular risk.


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