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Glomerular filtration rate

Glomerular filtration rate (GFR) is a test used to check how well the kidneys are working. Specifically, it estimates how much blood passes through the glomeruli each minute. Glomeruli are the tiny filters in the kidneys that filter waste from the blood.

A blood sample is needed.

The blood sample is sent to a lab. There, the creatinine level in the blood sample is tested. The lab specialist combines your creatinine level with several other factors to estimate your (GFR). Different formulas are used for adults and children. The formula includes some or all of the following:

  • Age
  • Blood creatinine measurement
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Height
  • Weight

The creatinine clearance test, which involves a 24-hour urine collection, can also provide an estimate of kidney function. But this method is not always accurate.

Your health care provider may ask you to temporarily stop any medicines that may affect the test results. These include antibiotics and stomach acid medicines.

Be sure to tell your provider about all the medicines you take. Do not stop taking any medicine before talking to your doctor.

Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or think you might be. GFR is affected by pregnancy.

When the needle is inserted to draw blood, some people feel moderate pain. Others feel only a prick or stinging sensation. Afterward, there might be some throbbing or a slight bruise. These soon go away.

The GFR test measures how well your kidneys are filtering the blood. Your doctor may order this test if there are signs that your kidneys are not working well. It may also be done to see how far kidney disease has progressed.

The GFR test is recommended for people with chronic kidney disease. It is also recommended for persons who may get kidney disease due to:

According to the National Kidney Foundation, normal results range from 90 - 120 mL/min/1.73 m2. Older people will have lower normal GFR levels, because GFR decreases with age.

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Some labs use different measurements or test different samples. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

Levels below 60 mL/min/1.73 m2 for 3 or more months are a sign of chronic kidney disease. GFR result lower than 15 mL/min/1.73 m2 is a sign of kidney failure and requires immediate medical attention.

Glomerular filtration rate Risks

Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Obtaining a blood sample from some people may be more difficult than from others.

Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight, but can include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling lightheaded
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)

References

Gerber GS, Brendler CB. Evaluation of the urologic patient: history, physical examination, and urinalysis. In: Wein AJ, Kavoussi LR, Novick AC, et al., eds. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 3.

Israni AK, Kasiske BL. Laboratory assessment of kidney disease: glomerular filtration rate, urinalysis, and proteinuria. In: Taal MW, Chertow GM, Marsden PA, et al., eds. Brenner and Rector's The Kidney. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 25.

McPherson RA, Ben-Ezra J. Basic examination of urine. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 28.

Review Date: 8/25/2013
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2014 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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