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Keep kidney disease in check

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Taking steps to preserve kidney health is important for everyone, but if you're at risk for kidney disease, you need to be especially aware. Early detection and treatment of a problem could help prevent or slow kidney damage.

Kidneys may not be the most glamorous organs in your body, but the work they do is essential to your health. When kidney problems occur, chronic kidney disease (CKD) and kidney failure—also known as end-stage renal disease—could be in your future. Fortunately, kidney disease can be prevented or delayed with early detection and treatment.

Damage to the body's cleaning system

Kidneys are blood-cleansing organs. They remove waste from the body in the form of urine and filter toxins from the blood. They also help create red blood cells, regulate blood pressure and build strong bones.

CKD occurs when the kidneys are damaged and become less able to do their job. According to the National Kidney Foundation (NKF), diabetes and high blood pressure are the most common causes of kidney damage, followed by diseases that cause inflammation and damage to the kidney's filtering units.

Other disorders, including frequent urinary tract infections, kidney stones and tumors, can also be responsible.

Without treatment, CKD may lead to complications like anemia (a lack of oxygen-carrying red blood cells) and nerve damage.

CKD also increases the risk for heart and blood vessel disease. Eventually, it may lead to kidney failure, which requires dialysis—filtering blood with a machine or through an abdominal tube to remove waste—or a kidney transplant.

Risk factors

Two risk factors for CKD are diabetes and high blood pressure, according to the NKF. Other risk factors include being older and having a family history of CKD.

CKD is also more common in African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asians, Pacific Islanders and American Indians than in whites.

Signs of trouble

Most people don't have symptoms of CKD in the early stages of the disease. The following symptoms, however, might indicate kidney failure and warrant medical attention:

  • Feeling more tired than usual.
  • A poor appetite.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Dry, itchy skin.
  • Night-time muscle cramping.
  • Swollen feet and ankles.
  • Puffy eyes, especially in the morning.
  • A need to urinate more often than normal, especially at night.

Early detection is key

You should also ask your doctor about special tests to screen for kidney disease if you have diabetes, high blood pressure or a family member with kidney disease, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

Your doctor will check for high blood pressure and order laboratory tests to look for protein and creatinine in your urine. (Creatinine is a waste product.)

If protein shows up in your urine three times over three months, that's a sign of CKD. When creatinine levels in your blood are high, the test will tell how much kidney function you have and how advanced your disease is.

If your results are positive for CKD, your doctor has several tools to pinpoint the cause. An ultrasound or CT scan of your kidneys and urinary tract could show a kidney stone or tumor that can be treated.

In some cases, small pieces of kidney tissue may be removed (biopsy) to check kidney damage.

If you aren't already seeing a kidney specialist (nephrologist), your doctor may recommend it at this time.

Keep your kidneys healthy

Whether or not you have CKD, you can help maintain good kidney health by exercising regularly, drinking plenty of fluids, not smoking and maintaining your recommended weight.

If you have CKD you should follow your doctor's treatment plan closely. Your plan could include these recommendations from the NIDDK:

  • Control blood sugar if you have diabetes.
  • Maintain your blood pressure as recommended by your doctor.
  • Eat less protein and salt. Work with your healthcare team to make sure your diet contains healthy amounts of the nutrients you need.
  • Keep cholesterol levels in a healthy range.

It's also important to see your doctor for regular checkups.

Reviewed 5/4/2023

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