Natalie Cole Health Scare

CNN show Tuesday that she has been diagnosed with kidney failure. Ms. Cole’s states that her kidney failure is related to chronic hepatitis C, which she contracted during her past struggles with cocaine and heroin addiction.

Hepatitis C (HVC) is a viral illness (like Hepatitis A and C) which is transmitted primarily through blood contact. This can occur through blood transfusion or  infected needles. There are currently about 3.2 million people in the US that have chronic HVC. Most people infected with the virus may remain asymptomatic until many years after the initial infection when liver damage becomes evident with symptoms such as fatigue, poor appetite, nausea, vomiting, and jaundice. Although a small percentage of people infected with the viral remain asymptomatic, the majority will go on to have some degree of liver damage. HVC is the number one cause of liver failure leading to liver transplant.

A small percentage of people with chronic HCV develop medical conditions outside the liver. This is because of their body’s immune response to the virus. Inflammation of the kidney (called glomerulonephritis) can lead to kidney failure. The kidney’s main function is to remove waste products and excess fluid from the body through the production of urine. Through a complex series of steps of excretion and reabsorption, the kidneys maintain a stable balance of body chemicals. When the kidneys malfunction, fluid is retained and the balance of body chemicals is disrupted. Dialysis treatments filter the blood and removes excess water and must be done several times a week. Kidney transplantation is an option for some candidates, however the donor pool is limited (see story about Natasha Richardson donating her organs).

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Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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