Each year, March is observed as National Kidney Month in order to raise awareness about kidney disease, its causes, complications, risk factors, and what you can do to help prevent it. This year’s focus is on the link between high blood pressure (hypertension) and kidney disease. Why the focus on kidney disease? You may not realize it, but kidney diseases are the ninth leading cause of death in the United States. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimates that approximately 37 million adults in the U.S. have chronic kidney disease, and about 90% of them don’t even know it.1
What is Kidney Disease?
First of all, let’s review what your kidneys are and what they do. Your kidneys are bean-shaped organs about the size of a fist, and they sit, one on either side of your spine, below your rib cage. Your kidneys filter all of the blood in your body about every thirty minutes, removing wastes and extra fluid in the form of urine. Your kidneys also help to keep the minerals in your blood in balance, which is important for regulating your blood pressure and keeping your bones healthy. Kidney disease occurs when your kidneys are damaged and do not function properly. Chronic kidney disease occurs when the condition lasts for a period of time, often months or more.
If your kidneys don’t function effectively, waste and excess fluid can build up in your body leading to harmful health conditions like heart disease and stroke. Chronic kidney disease can also lead to other conditions such as:
- Bone disease
- Heart disease
- Fluid buildup and swelling
- Electrolyte disturbances
- Weight changes
- High blood pressure
- Anemia (a low level of red blood cells)
- Increased incidence of infections
- Harmful imbalances of mineral levels in the blood
If left untreated, chronic kidney disease can progress to kidney failure, a condition which requires kidney replacement or dialysis in order to stay alive.
Ask your internist or primary care physician about your risks for developing chronic kidney disease. Some key risk factors include:
- High blood pressure (hypertension can be both a cause and a symptom of chronic kidney disease)
- Heart disease
- Family health history of chronic kidney disease or kidney failure
- Diabetes (Diabetes is the leading cause of chronic kidney disease.2 About one in every three adults with diabetes has chronic kidney disease.3)
- Age (According to the CDC, your chances of having chronic kidney disease increase after age 60, and the condition is most common among adults aged 70 years or older.4)
- Race (According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, “African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians are at high risk for developing kidney failure. This risk is due in part to high rates of diabetes and high blood pressure in these communities.”5)
Symptoms & Diagnosis
In its early stages, chronic kidney disease often causes no symptoms. The only way to have your kidney function evaluated is through blood and/or urine tests, which your internist or primary care physician can order.
There are many steps you can take to help prevent chronic kidney disease:
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Get the right amount of physical activity.
- Stop smoking.
- Manage your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol as directed by your physician.
- Take your medications as prescribed.
- Manage your salt intake as directed by your physician.
- Eat a healthy diet.
Your Healthcare Provider for Help
If you’re concerned about your risk factors for developing chronic kidney disease, talk to your healthcare provider about developing a plan to address your risks and achieve your health goals. Your doctor can evaluate your risks, order appropriate diagnostic tests, and refer you to specialists such as a nephrologist (kidney specialist) or dietitian for further evaluation, treatment, and education.
- Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Chronic Kidney Disease Basics. https://www.cdc.gov/kidneydisease/basics.html#about. Retrieved 3/12/20.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. What is Chronic Kidney Disease. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/chronic-kidney-disease-ckd/what-is-chronic-kidney-disease#otherProblems. Retrieved 3/12/20.
- Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Diabetes and Your Kidneys. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/spotlights/diabetes-and-kidneys.html. Retrieved 3/12/20.
- Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Chronic Kidney Disease. https://www.cdc.gov/dotw/ckd/index.html. Retrieved 3/12/20.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Race, Ethnicity, & Kidney Disease. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/race-ethnicity. Retrieved 3/12/20.
*Reference to specific commercial products, manufacturers, companies, or trademarks does not constitute its endorsement or recommendation by the U.S. Government, Department of Health and Human Services, or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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