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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Medication safety and chronic kidney disease in older adults prescribed metformin: a cross-sectional analysis

Deborah L Huang1*, Itamar B Abrass2 and Bessie A Young34

Author Affiliations

1 Division of General Internal Medicine, University of Washington, Box 354765, 4245 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle, WA 98105, USA

2 Division of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

3 Epidemiology Research and Information Center, Health Services Research and Development Center for Innovation for Veteran-Centered and Value-Driven Care, Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System, Seattle, WA, USA

4 Division of Nephrology, Kidney Research Institute, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

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BMC Nephrology 2014, 15:86  doi:10.1186/1471-2369-15-86

Published: 7 June 2014



Medication safety in patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a growing concern. This is particularly relevant in older adults due to underlying CKD. Metformin use is contraindicated in patients with abnormal kidney function; however, many patients are potentially prescribed metformin inappropriately. We evaluated the prevalence of CKD among older adults prescribed metformin for type 2 diabetes mellitus using available equations to estimate kidney function and examined demographic characteristics of patients who were potentially inappropriately prescribed metformin.


We conducted a cross-sectional analysis of older adults aged ≥65 years prescribed metformin from March 2008-March 2009 at an urban tertiary-care facility in Seattle, Washington, USA. CKD was defined using National Kidney Foundation-Kidney Disease Outcomes Quality Initiative criteria. Creatinine clearance was calculated using the Cockcroft-Gault equation; estimated glomerular filtration rate was calculated using the abbreviated Modification of Diet in Renal Disease (MDRD) and CKD-Epidemiology (EPI) Collaboration equations. Regression analyses were used to determine the associations between demographic characteristics and prevalent CKD.


Among 356 subjects (median age 69 years, 52.5% female, 39.4% non-Hispanic black), prevalence of stage 3 or greater CKD calculated by any of the equations was 31.4%. The Cockcroft-Gault equation identified more subjects as having CKD (23.7%) than the abbreviated MDRD (21.1%) or CKD-EPI (21.7%) equations (P < 0.001). Older age (OR = 1.13, 95% CI 1.08-1.19) and female sex (OR = 2.51, 95% CI 1.44-4.38) were associated with increased odds of potentially inappropriate metformin prescription due to CKD; non-Hispanic black race was associated with decreased odds of potentially inappropriate metformin prescription due to CKD (OR = 0.41, 95% CI 0.23-0.71).


CKD is common in older adults prescribed metformin for type 2 diabetes, raising concern for potentially inappropriate medication use. No single equation to estimate kidney function may accurately identify CKD in this population. Medication safety deserves greater consideration among elderly patients due to the widespread prevalence of CKD.

Aged; Chronic kidney disease; Diabetes mellitus; Drug prescriptions; Medication safety; Metformin; Renal insufficiency