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Performance and pitfalls of the tools for measuring glomerular filtration rate to guide chronic kidney disease diagnosis and assessment


Accurate diagnosis, classification and risk stratification for chronic kidney disease (CKD) allow for early recognition and delivering optimal care. Creatinine-based glomerular filtration rate (GFR), urinary albumin: creatinine ratio (UACR) and the kidney failure risk equation (KFRE) are important tools to achieve this, but understanding their limitations is important for optimal implementation.

When accurate GFR is required (eg, chemotherapy dosing), GFR is measured using an exogenous filtration marker. In routine clinical practice, in contrast, estimated GFR (eGFR) from serum creatinine (SCr), calculated using the enzymatic method±UACR, is recommended. Limitations of SCr include non-GFR determinants such as muscle mass, diet and tubular handling. An alternative or additional endogenous filtration marker is cystatin C, which can be used alongside SCr for confirmatory testing of CKD. However, its role in the UK is more limited due to concerns regarding false positive results.

The recommended creatinine-based eGFR equation in the UK is the CKD Epidemiology Collaboration 2009 equation. This was recently updated to a race-neutral 2021 version and demonstrated reduced bias in people of Black ethnicity, but has not been validated in the UK. Limitations are extremes of age, inaccuracy at greater GFRs and reduced generalisability to under-represented ethnicity groups.

The KFRE (based on age, sex, SCr and UACR) has recently been developed to help determine 2-year and 5-year risk of progression to end-stage kidney disease. It has been validated in over 30 countries and provides meaningful quantitative information to patients. However, supporting evidence for their performance in ethnic minority groups and kidney diseases such as glomerulonephritis remains modest.

In conclusion, early identification, risk stratification of kidney disease and timely intervention are important to impact kidney disease progression. However, clinician awareness of the limitations and variability of creatinine, cystatin C and the eGFR equations, is key to appropriate interpretation of results.

  • Glomerular Filtration Rate

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