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Estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate

Healthy kidney function is essential for maintaining overall well-being: kidneys play a vital role in filtering waste products from the blood, regulating blood pressure, balancing electrolytes, and producing hormones that aid in the production of red blood cells.

One vital biomarker for assessing kidney health is estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) in blood tests. eGFR serves as a crucial indicator of kidney function, offering insights into the kidneys' ability to filter waste products from the blood. 

By delving into eGFR, including its normal range, calculation methods, and its significance for different population groups, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of their kidney health and take proactive steps towards maintaining optimal kidney function. 

This article aims to elucidate eGFR, empowering readers with the knowledge to interpret eGFR results and make informed decisions about their health.

What is eGFR?

Definition of eGFR (Estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate) in Blood Tests  [1., 5.]

The estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) is a key measure used to assess kidney function by estimating the rate at which blood is filtered by the glomeruli, the tiny structures within the kidneys responsible for filtering waste and excess fluids from the bloodstream. 

It is typically determined through blood tests and is considered a more accurate indicator of kidney function than just measuring creatinine levels alone.

The estimation of glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) plays a crucial role in assessing kidney function, especially when serum creatinine levels alone may not accurately reflect the patient's renal health. 

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) emphasizes the importance of routinely estimating GFR alongside serum creatinine measurements for patients aged 18 and older, particularly those with risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension, or cardiovascular disease.  [6.] 

To ensure accuracy and consistency in eGFR results across different laboratories, it's essential to utilize an IDMS traceable equation calibrated to standardized creatinine measurement procedures. Different equations are used to calculate eGFR.

These equations account for variables such as age, gender, and race, enabling providers to identify CKD even when serum creatinine levels fall within the normal reference range. However, in cases of extreme body size, muscle mass, or unusual dietary intake, creatinine clearance may be considered for a more accurate assessment of kidney function.

Physiology of eGFR in Assessing Kidney Function  [5.] 

The glomerular filtration rate (GFR) reflects the rate at which blood plasma is filtered through the glomeruli of the kidneys. Typically measured in milliliters per minute, the GFR provides vital insights into the kidneys' efficiency in eliminating waste and excess fluids from the bloodstream. 

Renal plasma flow (RPF), which represents the volume of blood plasma passing through the kidneys per unit of time, plays a fundamental role in GFR determination. Within the glomerulus, organic and inorganic solutes are freely filtered, with GFR averaging around 120 milliliters per minute (or approximately 180 liters per day). 

Despite this substantial filtration rate, urine output typically amounts to only about 1.5 liters per day, underscoring the intricate reabsorption mechanisms within the tubular network of the kidneys.

The physiological dynamics of GFR are governed by intricate mechanisms to maintain renal homeostasis. The glomerulus imposes size and charge constraints on filtration, allowing only molecules below a certain size threshold to pass through its fenestrated capillaries. 

The Starling force's law equation encapsulates the interplay of various pressures influencing glomerular filtration, with capillary hydrostatic pressure and Bowman's space oncotic pressure favoring filtration, while Bowman's space hydrostatic pressure and capillary oncotic pressure oppose it. 

These regulatory mechanisms ensure that GFR remains relatively stable despite fluctuations in systemic blood pressure. The myogenic response, mediated by vascular smooth muscle in the afferent arteriole, helps maintain stable renal blood flow by modulating arteriolar diameter in response to changes in blood pressure. 

Additionally, the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system plays a crucial role in preserving GFR by regulating systemic blood pressure and renal perfusion. 

Tubuloglomerular feedback mechanisms, involving the macula densa in the nephron, contribute to GFR regulation by modulating arteriolar resistance in response to changes in fluid delivery to the distal tubule. 

Understanding eGFR

What is a Normal Range for eGFR in Blood Tests  [1.] 

By using a formula that takes into account factors such as age, gender, race, and serum creatinine levels, healthcare providers can estimate the eGFR, which provides a more accurate assessment of kidney function than simply measuring creatinine levels alone. 

A normal eGFR typically ranges from 90 to 120 mL/min/1.73 m², with values below this range indicating decreased kidney function.

How to Calculate eGFR: Calculation of eGFR Using Formulas  [6.] 

Using an isotope dilution mass spectrometry (IDMS) traceable equation, laboratories can calculate eGFR from serum creatinine levels, aiding healthcare providers in identifying chronic kidney disease (CKD) and monitoring patients already diagnosed with CKD.

To ensure accuracy and consistency in eGFR results across different laboratories, it's essential to utilize an IDMS traceable equation calibrated to standardized creatinine measurement procedures. Major manufacturers have aligned their creatinine assays with IDMS, minimizing interlaboratory variation and enhancing the reliability of eGFR estimates. 

The Modification of Diet in Renal Disease (MDRD) Study equation and the Chronic Kidney Disease Epidemiology Collaboration (CKD-EPI) equation are commonly used IDMS traceable equations for estimating GFR in adults, while the Bedside Schwartz equation is recommended for patients under 18. 

These equations account for variables such as age, gender, and race, enabling providers to identify CKD even when serum creatinine levels fall within the normal reference range. However, in cases of extreme body size, muscle mass, or unusual dietary intake, creatinine clearance may be considered for a more accurate assessment of kidney function.

eGFR for Different Populations

Difference Between eGFR for African American and Non-African American Individuals  [6.] 

In clinical practice, there exists a difference in the estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) calculation for African American and non-African American individuals. This differentiation stems from historical observations that African Americans tend to have higher muscle mass and, consequently, higher serum creatinine levels compared to their non-African American counterparts, even with similar kidney function. 

As a result, the use of a single eGFR equation for all populations may lead to underestimation of kidney function in African American individuals.

Reasons behind the Distinction:

The distinction in eGFR calculation between African American and non-African American individuals is primarily based on physiological differences in muscle mass and creatinine production rates. 

African American individuals typically have higher levels of creatinine due to increased muscle mass, which can lead to overestimation of kidney dysfunction if not accounted for in the eGFR calculation. 

To address this, separate equations have been developed to adjust for these differences and provide a more accurate estimation of kidney function in African American populations. These equations incorporate race as a variable alongside age, gender, and serum creatinine levels to ensure more precise assessments of eGFR and timely detection of kidney disease.

Interpreting eGFR Results

What Does a Low eGFR Indicate?  [1.]

A low estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) indicates decreased kidney function and may suggest the presence of kidney disease or impairment. Specifically, an eGFR below 60 mL/min/1.73m² for more than three months is indicative of chronic kidney disease (CKD). 

The stages of chronic kidney disease are set at:

  • Stage 1: Kidney damage with normal or high eGFR (≥90 mL/min/1.73m²)
  • Stage 2: Kidney damage with mildly decreased eGFR (60-89 mL/min/1.73m²)
  • Stage 3: Moderately decreased eGFR (30-59 mL/min/1.73m²)
  • Stage 4: Severely decreased eGFR (15-29 mL/min/1.73m²)
  • Stage 5: Kidney failure (eGFR <15 mL/min/1.73m² or dialysis)

As kidney function declines, waste products and toxins accumulate in the body, leading to potential complications such as electrolyte imbalances, fluid retention, hypertension, anemia, and bone disease. 

Therefore, a low eGFR serves as a crucial marker for identifying individuals at risk of kidney dysfunction and requires further evaluation and management to prevent disease progression and associated complications.

Importance of Monitoring Kidney Function

Monitoring kidney function through eGFR is essential for the early detection, management, and prevention of kidney disease and its associated complications. Regular assessment of eGFR allows healthcare providers to identify individuals with declining kidney function and implement timely interventions to slow or halt disease progression. 

Furthermore, monitoring kidney function is crucial for adjusting medication dosages, particularly for drugs excreted by the kidneys, to prevent potential toxicity in patients with impaired renal function. 

Additionally, maintaining optimal kidney function is vital for overall health and well-being, as the kidneys play a critical role in regulating fluid balance, electrolyte levels, blood pressure, and the elimination of waste products from the body. 

Therefore, routine monitoring of eGFR is essential for promoting kidney health and reducing the risk of kidney-related complications.

Tips for Improving eGFR

Lifestyle Changes to Promote Kidney Health

  • Maintain a healthy weight through regular exercise and a balanced diet.  [7.]
  • Monitor and control blood pressure by limiting salt intake, taking prescribed medications, and managing stress.  [4.]
  • Keep blood sugar levels under control if you have diabetes through medication, diet, and exercise.  [2.]
  • Avoid smoking and limit alcohol consumption.  [9.]
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.  [8.]
  • Limit the intake of foods high in phosphorus, potassium, and sodium.  [3.]
  • Monitor protein intake, as excessive protein consumption can strain the kidneys.  [3.]

Medical Interventions and Treatments:

  • Take prescribed medications as directed by your healthcare provider, including those for managing blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol.
  • Treat underlying conditions such as urinary tract infections promptly to prevent kidney damage.
  • Discuss with your doctor about medications or supplements that may help improve kidney function, such as certain types of blood pressure medications.
  • Consider treatments such as dialysis or kidney transplant if eGFR declines to a critical level and kidney failure occurs.
  • Regularly monitor kidney function through blood tests and follow-up appointments with your healthcare provider.

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The Estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate (eGFR) is a test that checks how well your kidneys are cleaning your blood. Your kidneys, which look like two beans, work as your body's natural filter system. They remove waste and extra water to create urine, help control blood pressure, and make red blood cells. The eGFR test measures the amount of blood that goes through the tiny filters in your kidneys, called glomeruli, every minute. It's like a quick picture of your kidneys' efficiency, helping to understand how well they're doing their important job in keeping your body healthy.
If Your Levels Are High
A high eGFR result means your kidneys are working more efficiently than average, which could be due to various reasons. For example, eating a lot of protein, having more muscle mass, or taking certain medications can affect how well your kidneys filter your blood. Sometimes, the test result might just be a one-time thing, as eGFR can change based on how hydrated you are or other temporary factors. While having a high eGFR is generally a good sign, it could also be caused by situations that increase blood flow to the kidneys, like being pregnant or having certain heart-related conditions.
Symptoms of High Levels
Symptoms of high levels of eGFR are typically not noticeable, as this condition often doesn't present any specific signs. However, in some cases, it could be associated with symptoms related to the underlying cause, such as high blood pressure or swelling in the hands and feet due to increased kidney function.
If Your Levels are Low
A low eGFR result might mean that your kidneys aren't cleaning your blood as well as they should. This could be due to various reasons, such as chronic kidney issues, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Some medications, like painkillers or anti-inflammatory drugs, could also affect your kidney function and lead to a lower eGFR. Additionally, lifestyle factors like eating a lot of processed foods and not getting enough nutrients could play a role in reducing your eGFR. Keep in mind that this is a general explanation, and individual factors can vary.
Symptoms of Low Levels
Symptoms of low levels of eGFR could include fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, and swelling in the hands or feet. Some people may also experience changes in urine output or color.
See References

[1.] Baumgarten M, Gehr T. Chronic Kidney Disease: Detection and Evaluation. American Family Physician. 2011;84(10):1138-1148. 

[2.] Bouhairie VE, McGill JB. Diabetic Kidney Disease. Mo Med. 2016 Sep-Oct;113(5):390-394. PMID: 30228506; PMCID: PMC6139827. 

[3.] Diet & Nutrition for Adults with Advanced Chronic Kidney Disease - NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

[4.] Hanratty R, Chonchol M, Havranek EP, Powers JD, Dickinson LM, Ho PM, Magid DJ, Steiner JF. Relationship between blood pressure and incident chronic kidney disease in hypertensive patients. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2011 Nov;6(11):2605-11. doi: 10.2215/CJN.02240311. Epub 2011 Sep 15. PMID: 21921154; PMCID: PMC3206001.

[5.] Kaufman DP, Basit H, Knohl SJ. Physiology, Glomerular Filtration Rate. [Updated 2023 Jul 17]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: 

[6.] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Estimating Glomerular Filtration Rate | NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Published April 2015. 

[7.] Prasad R, Jha RK, Keerti A. Chronic Kidney Disease: Its Relationship With Obesity. Cureus. 2022 Oct 21;14(10):e30535. doi: 10.7759/cureus.30535. PMID: 36415443; PMCID: PMC9675899. 

[8.] Roncal-Jimenez C, Lanaspa MA, Jensen T, Sanchez-Lozada LG, Johnson RJ. Mechanisms by Which Dehydration May Lead to Chronic Kidney Disease. Ann Nutr Metab. 2015;66 Suppl 3:10-3. doi: 10.1159/000381239. Epub 2015 Jun 18. PMID: 26088040.

[9.] Shankar A, Klein R, Klein BE. The association among smoking, heavy drinking, and chronic kidney disease. Am J Epidemiol. 2006 Aug 1;164(3):263-71. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwj173. Epub 2006 Jun 14. PMID: 16775042.

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