GPs should test for microalbuminuria to find patients at risk of cardiovascular and renal problems, experts say.
The call comes after data presented at the European meeting of Hypertension in Milan last week showed that too few UK GPs check microalbuminuria.
A survey of doctors in the UK, France, Italy, Germany and Spain examined their awareness and behaviour in relation to microalbuminuria. A total of 800 GPs took part, including 130 from the UK.
Overall, the researchers found that awareness of microalbuminuria among GPs was low compared with cardiologists and diabetologists.
UK GPs were the least likely to use microalbuminuria to check renal function. Just 77 per cent of UK GPs did so, compared with 92 per cent of Italian GPs and 96 per cent of Spanish GPs.
Lead researcher Professor Hermann Haller, of the department of nephrology and hypertension at Hannover Medical School, said microalbuminuria was undervalued as a risk factor and diagnostic tool for cardiovascular and renal health.
'There should be more analysis of microalbuminuria in general practice. There is a need for more education; most doctors do not realise that it is a very good tool for assessing stroke risk.'
Professor Luis Ruilope, head of the hypertension unit at Octubre Hospital, Madrid, said: 'In patients with microalbuminuria, cardiovascular risk is elevated and they have an increased risk of reaching end-stage renal disease.
'Microalbuminuria has to be considered a marker of organ damage. It is also extremely cost-effective.'
Professor Eberhard Ritz, from the University of Heidelberg in Germany, said early changes in albuminuria should be used to predict diabetes.
Up to 25 per cent of diabetics have high levels of microalbuminuria when they are diagnosed, he said.
Professor Giancarlo Viberti, from King's College, London, added that research was under way to explore whether treatment with olmesartan, an angiotensin antagonist, could prevent or slow down the occurrence of microalbuminuria in at-risk type-2 diabetics.
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