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What Can Cause Elevated Creatinine Levels?

written by: Leigh A. Zaykoski•edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski•updated: 2/24/2010

The breakdown of proteins in the body results in the formation of waste products known as creatinine and blood urea nitrogen. So, what can cause elevated creatinine levels? Find out about the creatinine test and what conditions cause creatinine levels to increase.

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    Normal Creatinine Levels

    Normal creatinine levels range from 0.8 to 1.4 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter), according to the National Institutes of Health. Lab professionals check levels of this substance by drawing a sample of blood from one of the veins in the body. This test has few risks and helps doctors determine if a patient needs additional tests.

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    What Can Cause Elevated Creatinine?

    So, what can cause elevated creatinine in a human? Kidney disorders often result in higher-than-normal creatinine levels. The kidneys filter wastes from the blood, so when kidney damage occurs, creatinine and other waste products build up in the body. Examples of kidney disorders that lead to high creatinine levels include acute tubular necrosis, glomerulonephritis, kidney failure, pyelonephritis (kidney infection) and reduced blood flow to the kidneys.

    Other conditions also lead to high levels of creatinine in the blood. Dehydration, shock, and congestive heart failure reduce the amount of blood flow to the kidneys and prevent these important organs from carrying out their functions. Examples of other conditions leading to elevated serum creatinine include diabetic neuropathy, rhabdomyolysis, muscular dystrophy, preeclampsia, and eclampsia.

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    Ordering the Test

    Doctors order the creatinine test when a patient experiences signs and symptoms of a kidney disorder. These signs and symptoms include foamy or bloody urine, fatigue, poor appetite, lack of concentration, difficulty sleeping, coffee-colored urine, swelling or puffiness in the face, thighs, ankles, wrists and abdomen, reduced urine output, pain in the flank (mid-back), difficulty urinating, and high blood pressure. As creatinine levels increase, nausea and vomiting may occur.

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    Treating High Creatinine Levels

    The treatment for high creatinine levels depends on the cause of the problem. If a kidney disorder is present, hemodialysis filters the blood and removes harmful waste products. During this process, a machine filters the blood and returns the clean blood to the body. If high creatinine is the result of a diet high in protein, a low-protein diet will reduce the amount of creatinine in the blood.

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    Complementary Testing

    During a basic metabolic panel, laboratory technicians check the levels of creatinine and seven other substances. These other substances include sodium, glucose, carbon dioxide, chloride, calcium, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), and potassium. If this test reveals high levels of creatinine in the blood, a doctor may order a creatinine clearance test or a 24-hour urine test to determine how much creatinine the kidneys excrete in the urine. A doctor will also order a renal ultrasound or CT scan of the kidneys if blood tests reveal a decline in kidney function. These imaging studies help determine the presence of tumors, anatomical abnormalities, traumatic injuries and other problems with the kidneys.

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    The author used the following references in the preparation of this article:

    National Institutes of Health: Creatinine - Blood

    American Association for Clinical Chemistry: Creatinine - The Test

    Quest Diagnostics - Creatinine and Creatinine Clearance