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Take Care of Your Kidneys

Your kidneys take care of you every day. They clean waste products out of your blood and eliminate excess fluids, turning them into urine to exit your body through your bladder.

Not caring for your kidneys or for your body as a whole can put you at risk for chronic kidney disease (CKD)—a condition that affects roughly 10% of the U.S. population.

Here are some important questions to ask your doctor about kidney disease:

Am I at risk of CKD?

If you have high blood pressure or suffer from diabetes, you are at a higher risk for CKD. In fact, about 1 in 3 adults with diabetes and 1 in 5 adults with high blood pressure may have chronic kidney disease.

Other risk factors include:

  • A family history of kidney disease, kidney disorders, or damage to the kidneys

  • Heart disease

  • Obesity

  • Older age

How do I know if I have kidney disease?

Chronic kidney disease means your kidneys are not working at full capacity and cannot filter out the toxins as they should. Blood and urine tests can help determine whether your kidneys are working properly.

  • Blood test: Testing your blood can estimate the glomerular filtration rate (GFR) to measure the function of your kidneys. A GFR less than 60% indicates kidney disease.

  • Urine test: Similarly, protein in the urine, which is not normally present, is a sign of kidney disease, even if GFR estimates are greater than 60%.

“The blood and urine tests are important because disease symptoms may not be present in the early stages of the disease,” says Nirupama Ramkumar, MD, MPH, an assistant professor in the Department of Nephrology and Hypertension at University of Utah Health. “It may not be until the kidneys are functioning at less than 10% that symptoms appear.”

What are the symptoms of CKD?

Symptoms do not typically appear at the early stages of kidney disease. They are usually recognized at an advanced stage when a person is already in kidney failure.

Watch for these symptoms of CKD:

  • Swelling of feet and ankles

  • Decreased appetite

  • Fatigue

  • Shortness of breath

  • Changes in urination pattern

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Trouble with concentration

How can I prevent kidney disease?

If you have a family history of kidney disease or have diabetes or high blood pressure, it’s important that you continue to manage your blood sugar and blood pressure levels.

Ramkumar also recommends:

  • Regular exercise

  • Balanced diet

  • Staying hydrated

  • Avoid long-term, frequent use of medications (especially those that cause damage to the kidneys like ibuprofen or naproxen)

What are kidney disease treatment options?

If kidney disease is found at an early stage, medication and regular testing may help stop it from advancing.

"We generally recommend a low salt diet (less than 2,300 milligrams of salt daily) in patients with chronic kidney disease," Ramkumar says. "Reducing the amount of added sugars and high-fat foods is also recommended for kidney health.”

If someone is in kidney failure, there are two available options: dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Every 14 minutes in the United States, someone is added to the waiting list for a kidney donation. The average wait for a kidney is more than three and a half years. However, if a person is made aware of their CKD before this happens, they can slow the progression of the disease.

Take care of your kidneys and they will take care of you.