If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, you’re probably well aware of your risk for heart disease. But did you know that you’re also at an increased risk for kidney disease?
There are many causes of kidney disease: overuse of certain medications, heredity and sepsis, to name a few. However, the most common causes are high blood pressure and diabetes. Both of these conditions limit the flow of blood to the kidneys, preventing them from doing their job.
So what do the kidneys do, exactly?
“Each kidney is made up of approximately one million nephrons that filter the blood, regulating the good stuff (sodium, potassium and calcium) in the body and sending the bad stuff (extra sodium, toxins) out through the urine,” says UVA nephrologist Emaad Abdel-Rahman, MD. In addition, the kidneys produce hormones that make red blood cells, activate vitamin D for bone health and help regulate blood pressure. When the kidneys are diseased and aren’t functioning properly, the blood gets polluted wit h toxins and the body doesn’t get what it needs.
A Silent Disease
Unfortunately, many who have kidney disease are unaware. The symptoms — nausea, vomiting, itching, fatigue — often are dismissed or don’t appear until the disease has progressed, so kidney decline frequently goes undetected until the later stages of disease when it is more difficult to manage. “This is why screening and education are so important,” says Abdel-Rahman.
With Knowledge Comes Prevention
If you are a diabetic or have high blood pressure and you are over the age of 60, talk to your doctor about kidney screening. The screening includes a simple urine analysis that looks for protein and/or blood in the urine and a blood test that measures levels of creatinine, a waste substance that builds up in the blood when kidneys are compromised. Should your test results indicate that your kidneys are not functioning properly; your doctor can recommend steps you can take to protect the kidneys from further decline. On the top of that list:
- Eating a healthy diet. Being mindful of what you eat goes a long way in keeping diabetes and hypertension in check, which is critical for kidney health. But there are also direct benefits for the kidneys as well. For example, a diet that is low in sodium and includes the right amount of protein puts less strain on the kidneys because they don’t have to work as hard to expel those unwanted elements from the body.
- Getting regular exercise. Exercise is a must to keep the blood pumping, to maintain a healthy weight and to build strength and endurance — all beneficial for kidney health and health in general.
- Avoiding medications or herbal supplements that can damage the kidneys. These include certain pain medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen.
In addition, depending on the stage of disease, it may be necessary to support kidney function with medication. Your doctor may prescribe a vitamin D supplement or other drugs to augment those hormones typically provided by the kidneys.
When kidney function declines to 20 percent or less, it’s time to consider more complex treatments such as dialysis, which helps remove toxins and extra fluids from the body, or kidney transplant, the most effective way to treat kidney disease. “These are both viable options that save the lives of millions of patients with chronic kidney disease and hundreds of thousands of patients with end-stage kidney disease,” says Abdel-Rahman. “However, the goal is to keep the kidneys healthy so that these treatments aren’t necessary.”
Educate Yourself About Kidney Health
To help increase awareness about ways to prevent kidney disease, UVA Health System Kidney Center is hosting a series of free classes to educate the public about kidney health. Just in time for National Kidney Month, the “Taking Care of Kidneys” class will take place on Friday, March 11, from 10-11:30 a.m. at UVA Medical Center West Complex (parking is complimentary with validation). Two nephrology experts will discuss how the kidneys function, the risk factors and symptoms of kidney disease, as well available treatment strategies. The class is open to current patients and the general public, and is encouraged for anyone with high blood pressure or diabetes.
For more information on this and other Kidney Center classes, call 434.924.1984 or go to uvahealth.com/services/kidney-care.