Could you be at risk for chronic kidney disease?
Kidney disease is more common than you may realize. Currently, 37 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. That number is growing quickly, with 1 in 7 adults in this country living with kidney disease, making it the fastest growing non-communicable disease in the U.S. The good news is that there are proactive steps you can take to protect your kidneys, or if you’ve already been diagnosed with kidney disease, slow the progress of your condition.
While anyone can develop kidney disease, some people are at an increased risk, including people with:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- A family history of kidney disease
Your risk is also higher if you’re 60 or older, Black, Hispanic, Native American, or Asian American. There are some diseases that cause chronic kidney disease, including glomerulonephritis, interstitial nephritis, polycystic kidney disease and other inherited kidney diseases, prolonged blockage of the urinary tract, vesicoureteral reflux, and recurrent kidney infections.
Why protecting your kidneys is important for your overall health
The kidneys play an important role in helping you stay healthy. Kidneys filter your blood and remove excess fluid and waste. They also release hormones that control your blood pressure, and signal your body to produce red blood cells, make vitamin D (which is important for healthy bones), and control your body’s pH levels.
In the early stages, many people with kidney disease do not have any symptoms. That’s why it’s important to get regular preventive care and, if you have any of the conditions that increase your risk of developing kidney disease, work with your healthcare provider to manage these health problems. Talk with your provider about your risk of kidney disease, what steps you can take to lower your risk, and how often you should have blood and urine tests to screen for kidney problems. The urine test is called an albumin creatinine ratio (ACR) and it checks for a protein called albumin in your urine. The blood test is called glomerular filtration rate (GFR) and it checks to see how well your kidneys are removing waste. You should also ask whether you need imaging tests to check the condition of your kidneys.
More advanced kidney disease can cause a range of symptoms, including:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Itchy skin
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle cramps
- Swelling in your legs, ankles, and feet
- Urinating more frequently
- Frothy urine, which is caused by protein in the urine
- Shortness of breath
- Sleep problems
There are five stages of kidney disease.
- Stages 1 and 2 mean you have mild kidney disease and your kidneys are still working well.
- Stage 3 means you have moderate kidney disease and may notice some of the symptoms listed above.
- Stage 4 means your kidneys aren’t working well and are moderately to severely damage.
- Stage 5 kidney disease means your kidneys are close to failure or have failed.
Steps to slow damage to your kidneys
If you’ve been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, there are several steps you can take to slow the damage to your kidneys:
- Keep your blood pressure and blood sugar under control and take any medications your healthcare provider prescribes to manage these conditions.
- Choose a healthy diet to help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Some good choices include the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.
- Get 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity most days of the week.
- Don’t smoke.
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol use.
- Don’t overuse NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), which at high doses reduce blood flow to the kidneys, causing damage.
- Reach and maintain a healthy weight.
A health advisor or health navigator can help you build a plan to lower your risk of chronic kidney disease and connect you with experienced nephrologists (kidney specialists) to manage kidney disease.