What level of creatinine indicates kidney failure?

What level of creatinine indicates kidney failure?

What level of creatinine indicates kidney failure?/Creatinine clearance (CrCl) is the volume of blood plasma cleared of creatinine per unit time. It is a rapid and cost-effective method for the measurement of renal function. Both CrCl and GFR can be measured using the comparative values of creatinine in blood and urine.

The measurement of accurate renal function is vital for the routine care of patients. Determining the renal function status can predict kidney disease progression and prevent toxic drug levels in the body. The glomerular filtration rate (GFR) describes the flow rate of filtered fluid through the kidneys. The gold standard measurement of GFR involves the injection of inulin and its clearance by the kidneys. However, the use of inulin is invasive, time-consuming, and an expensive procedure. Alternatively, the biochemical marker creatinine found in serum and urine is commonly used in the estimation of GFR.

Glomerular Filtration Rate

The GFR in the measurement of volume filtered through the glomerular capillaries and into the Bowman’s capsule per unit of time. The filtration in the kidney is dependent on the difference in high and low blood pressure created by the afferent (input) and efferent (output) arterioles, respectively. The clearance rate for a given substance equals the GFR when it is neither secreted nor reabsorbed by the kidneys. For such given substance, the urine concentration multiplied by the urine flow equals the mass of substance excreted during the time of urine collection. This mass divided by the plasma concentration is equivalent to the volume of plasma from which the mass was originally filtered. Below is the equation used to determine GFR, typically recorded in volume per time (e.g., mL/min):

GFR = [UrineX (mL/mg)] * urine flow (mL/min)/ [PlasmaX (mL/mg)], where X is a substance that is completely excreted.

GFR approximation using Creatinine Clearance

Creatinine is a breakdown product of dietary meat and creatine phosphate found in skeletal muscle. Its production in the body is dependent on muscle mass. The CrCl rate approximates the calculation of GFR since the glomerulus freely filters creatinine. However, it is also secreted by the peritubular capillaries, causing CrCl to overestimate the GFR by approximately 10% to 20%. Despite the marginal error, it is an accepted method for measuring GFR due to the ease of measurement of CrCl.

Cockcroft-Gault formula: Estimated creatinine clearance rate (eCCR)

Creatinine clearance can be estimated using serum creatinine levels. The Cockcroft-Gault (C-G) formula uses a patient’s weight (kg) and gender to predict CrCl (mg/dL). The resulting CrCl is multiplied by 0.85 if the patient is female to correct for the lower CrCl in females. The C-G formula is dependent on age as its main predictor for CrCl. Below is the formula:

eCCr = (140 – Age) x Mass (kg) x [0.85 if female] / 72 x [Serum Creatinine (mg/dL)]

Formulas used in the prediction of GFR

Formulas derived using variables that influence GFR can provide varying degrees of accuracy in estimating GFR. The widely used Modification of Diet in Renal Disease Study Group (MDRD) employs four variables, including serum creatinine, age, ethnicity, and albumin levels. A further complex version of MDRD includes blood urea nitrogen and serum albumin in its formula. However, since the MDRD formula does not adjust for body size, results of eGFR are given in units of ml^-1 min^-1 1.73m^-2, 1.73m^2 due to body surface area in an adult with a mass of 63kg and height of 1.7m.

Other formulas used for GFR calculations and their employed variables to estimate GFR include Chronic Kidney Disease Epidemiology Collaboration (CKD-EPI) formulas. The CKD-EPI formulas are in categories based on patients that are a black female, black male, non-black female, and non-black male. The Mayo Quadratic formula was developed to better estimate GFR in patients that have preserved renal function. Estimation of GFR in children uses the Schwartz formula, which employs serum creatinine (mg/dL) and child’s height (cm).

In current clinical practice, the use of creatinine derived the KDIGO clinical practice guidelines recommend the CKD-EPI formula for the estimation of GFR.

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Why Creatinine Tests Are Done

Doctors use creatinine and creatinine clearance tests to check how well your kidneys work. This is called renal function. Testing the rate of creatinine clearance shows the kidneys’ ability to filter the blood. As renal function gets worse, creatinine clearance also goes down. Your doctor may also order a creatinine test if you have symptoms of kidney disease, including:

  • Nausea
  • Throwing up
  • A loss of appetite
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in how much you pee
  • Swollen feet and ankles

Preparing for a Creatinine Test

Before you take a creatinine test, your doctor may tell you not to eat cooked meat for 24 hours. Studies show that it can raise your creatinine levels for a short time.

How Is a Creatinine Test Done?

There are two main ways doctors use creatinine tests to measure kidney function:

  • Urine tests – Creatinine clearance can be pinpointed by measuring the amount of creatinine in a sample of pee collected over 24 hours. For this method, you store all your urine in a plastic jug for one day and then bring it in for testing. This method is inconvenient, but it may be necessary to diagnose some kidney conditions.
  • Blood tests – Doctors can estimate GFR using a single blood level of creatinine, which they enter into a formula. Different formulas take into account your age, sex, and sometimes weight and ethnicity. The higher the blood creatinine level, the lower the estimated GFR and creatinine clearance.

For practical reasons, the blood test method for GFR is used far more often than the 24-hour urine collection test for creatinine clearance. But urine collections may still be useful in people who have large muscle mass or a marked decrease in muscle mass. Serum and urine samples are required. The serum collection must be within 24 hours of urine collection.

Blood specimen

A blood sample of 1 mL (minimum 0.5 mL) in a labeled tube, preferably stored in refrigerated or frozen temperature.

Urine specimen

A 24-hour urine sample is collected from the patient to measure creatinine clearance.  A plastic collection container is used to collect urine. The collection starts with an empty bladder. At the start, the patient urinates into the toilet and flushes. The date and time get recorded at the start of the collection. For the next 24 hours, the patient will collect urine and store in a container at room temperature. Total urine collected for 24 hours gets sent to the laboratory for analysis. The patient is required to drink at least 8 cups of liquid on the day of urine collection.

Specimen Requirements and Procedure

A physician may require a creatinine clearance test from patients when routine blood creatinine levels or the estimated GFR are not within normal ranges. Patients with signs and symptoms of deteriorating kidney function are candidates for the CrCl test. Patients presenting with an obstruction within the kidney or dysfunction from another disease such as congestive heart failure may be required to perform a CrCl test.

Diagnostic Tests

Elevated serum creatinine levels and a decreased CrCl rate are usually indications of abnormal renal function. For these patients, it is recommended to perform a thorough history, physical exam, renal ultrasound, and urinalysis. Relevant patient history includes medications, history of edema, gross hematuria, diabetes, and polyuria. Physical examination for signs of vasculitis, lupus erythematosus, endocarditis, and hypertension can help narrow the diagnosis — renal ultrasound assesses the kidney size, echogenicity, and possible hydronephrosis. Enlarged kidneys usually indicate diabetic nephropathy, focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, or multiple myeloma. A urinalysis positive for proteinuria or urinary sediment indicates the presence of glomerular disease.

Testing Procedures

The normal range of CrCl is 110 to 150mL/min in males and 100 to 130mL/min in females. Serum creatinine level for men with normal kidney function is approximately 0.6 to 1.2mg/dL and between 0.5 to 1.1 mg/dL for women. Creatine levels above the normal range correlate with a reduction of GFR and indicate renal dysfunction.

  • Creatinine 1 mg/dL is the baseline for a given patient with normal GFR
  • Creatinine 2 mg/dL is 50% reduction in GFR
  • Creatinine 4 mg/dL is 70 to 85% reduction in GFR
  • Creatine 8 mg/dL is 90 to 95% reduction in GFR

Alteration of serum creatinine values can occur as its generation is subject to influence by muscle function, activity, diet, and health status of the patient. Increased tubular secretion of creatinine in certain patients with dysfunctional kidneys could provide a false negative value. Elevated serum creatinine levels also present in patients with muscular dystrophy paralysis, anemia, leukemia, and hyperthyroidism. Meanwhile, decreased values present in patients with glomerulonephritis, shock, congestive heart failure, polycystic kidney disease, acute tubular necrosis, and dehydration.

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Interfering Factors

Results obtained from a 24-hour urine collection depend on accurate timing and completion. Improper urine sample collection leads to an underestimation of creatinine excretion; therefore, incorrect GFR. A significant limitation of CrCl measurement is an age-related increase in the tubular secretion of creatinine that results in an overestimation of GFR

Creatinine clearance is affected by sex and race. Women have less muscle mass and a lower rate of creatinine production in comparison to men. Latinos produce lower clearance values while blacks produce higher values, indicating greater muscle mass in blacks. Patients with a unique dietary intake (e.g., vegetarian, creatine supplements) or have muscle wasting (e.g., malnutrition, amputation) can produce levels of creatinine that deviate from the general population. Drugs such as trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole can increase serum creatinine level by approximately 0.4 to 0.5 mg/dL

Results, Reporting, Critical Findings

It is essential to determine CrCl and serum creatine levels when there is suspicion of renal dysfunction. A common complication that results in increased serum creatine levels is acute kidney injury (AKI) A sudden decrease in GFR and oliguria are signs of AKI. This type of injury is common in 20% of hospitalized patients and leads to volume overload, electrolyte imbalances and drug toxicity Management for patients with AKI is to perverse kidney function and prevent further complications.

Persistently elevated levels of serum creatinine and severely reduced GFR are indicative of chronic kidney disease. CKD occurs through multiple pathologic mechanisms of injury and affects several compartments of the kidney. The loss of microvasculature and increased fibrosis leads to hypoxia within the kidney, making patients more substile to acute kidney injuries with poor healing.  The continued loss of tubular cells becomes replaced with collagen scars and macrophage infiltration. These chronic changes are associated with further loss of renal function and progression towards end-stage renal failure

Common Questions

How is it used?


A creatinine clearance test may be used to help detect and diagnose kidney dysfunction. It may be used in follow-up to abnormal results on a blood creatinine test and estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR).

Creatinine clearance may also sometimes be used to detect the presence of decreased blood flow to the kidneys, as may occur with congestive heart failure.

In people with known chronic kidney disease or congestive heart failure, the creatinine clearance test may be ordered to help monitor the progress of the disease and evaluate its severity. It may also be used to help determine if and when kidney dialysis may be necessary.

When is it ordered?

The creatinine clearance test may be ordered when a healthcare practitioner wants to evaluate the filtration ability of a patient’s kidneys. It may be ordered as a follow-up when a person has, for example, increased blood creatinine concentrations on a routine chemistry panel (CMP) or protein in the urine on a routine urinalysis. It may be ordered when there is a suspected kidney disorder because of certain signs and symptoms.

Signs and symptoms that may be an indication of kidney problems include:

  • Swelling or puffiness, particularly around the eyes or in the face, wrists, abdomen, thighs, or ankles
  • Urine that is foamy, bloody, or coffee-colored
  • A decrease in the amount of urine
  • Problems urinating, such as a burning feeling or abnormal discharge during urination, or a change in the frequency of urination, especially at night
  • Mid-back pain (flank), below the ribs, near where the kidneys are located
  • High blood pressure
  • Blood and/or protein in the urine
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The creatinine clearance may also be ordered periodically when it is known that someone has a kidney disorder or decreased blood flow to the kidneys due to a condition such as congestive heart failure.

What does the test result mean?


A decreased creatinine clearance may suggest kidney disease or other conditions that can affect kidney function. These can include:

  • Damage to or swelling of blood vessels in the kidneys (glomerulonephritis) caused by, for example, infection or autoimmune diseases
  • Bacterial infection of the kidneys (pyelonephritis)
  • Death of cells in the kidneys’ small tubes (acute tubular necrosis) caused by, for example, drugs or toxins
  • Prostate disease, kidney stone, or other causes of urinary tract obstruction
  • Reduced blood flow to the kidney due to shock, dehydration, congestive heart failure, atherosclerosis, or complications of diabetes

Increased creatinine clearance rates may occasionally be seen during pregnancy, exercise, and with diets high in meat, although this test is not typically used to monitor these conditions.

Is there anything else I should know?


People with one dysfunctional and one normal kidney will usually have normal creatinine clearance rates as the functional kidney will increase its rate of filtration in compensation.

Creatinine clearance rates tend to fall later in life as the glomerular filtration rate (GFR – the rate at which the glomeruli filter the blood) declines.

Certain drugs, such as aminoglycosides, cimetidine, cisplatin, and cephalosporins, can decrease the creatinine clearance measurement. Diuretics can increase the result.

Why do I have to collect my urine for 24 hours?


A 24-hour urine sample is required instead of a random urine sample because the amount of creatinine in the urine will vary somewhat during the course of a day. By collecting all urine for 24 hours, the amount of creatinine in the urine can be averaged over the entire day and will give a better indication of what is going on in the body.

What should I do if I forget to save one urine sample during the collection?


If you do not have a complete collection, the results will not be valid. You should call your healthcare practitioner’s office or the laboratory where you obtained your collection container to ask if you should discontinue the test and begin again another day.

Are there other ways to estimate or determine the glomerular filtration rate (GFR) of my kidneys?


Yes. The GFR can be estimated with a simple blood creatinine test (see the article on eGFR). Given a measurement of the amount of creatinine in a blood sample, the healthcare practitioner will use a formula to estimate the rate at which the kidneys are filtering blood. The formulas take relevant factors into accounts, such as the person’s age, weight, height, and ethnicity.

The collection of a 24-hour urine specimen needed for the creatinine clearance test can be impractical to obtain, so the eGFR calculations are usually the preferred method for evaluating kidney function. The creatinine clearance test specifically may be ordered when a healthcare practitioner suspects a problem with blood flow to the kidneys.




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