March is Kidney Health Awareness Month; a time for raising awareness about kidney health and sharing facts about ways to keep your kidneys healthy.
“According to the National Kidney Foundation (NKF), one in three Americans is at risk for kidney disease due to diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history of kidney failure,” said Doris U. Theune, GNP-BC Sheboygan Internal Medicine Associates. Sadly, more than 30 million Americans already have a kidney disease, and most don’t even know it because there are no symptoms until the disease has progressed.
You have two kidneys that are bean-shaped organs about the size of your fist; they are located at either side of your spine near the middle of your back. Many think the kidneys are only responsible for producing urine, but they have many important functions in your body. For instance, when your kidneys are functioning normally, they accumulate urine and dispose of it through the urinary tract. Excess water and toxins from metabolic processes, along with the urine, are removed from the body as if through a filter. In addition, the acid-base balance is regulated by the kidneys to prevent excess acidity in the blood. The kidneys are also important for regulating your blood pressure by producing hormones. In addition, kidneys influence the amount of calcium in the blood and the production of vitamin D needed in mineralization that provides bone stability.
- Kidneys remove excess body water and waste 24/7
- Healthy kidneys clean the blood about 300 times a day
- This translates to approximately 1,500 liters of blood passes through the kidneys each day
“Because chronic kidney disease is a long and typically slow process where your kidneys gradually lose function, you may not notice any symptoms,” said Theune. The disease can take years to go from below normal kidney function to end stage kidney failure where dialysis or a kidney transplant is needed. “When someone is diagnosed with chronic kidney disease there is permanent damage, that is normally caused by diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), various kidney tissue infections and/or excessive use of some medications that may reduce long-term kidney function,” said Theune. He added, “Since it may be possible to slow down the progression of the disease in its early stages it is important to get an early diagnosis and work closely with your doctor to find the right treatment.”
“In its earliest stage you may not notice any symptoms however, blood tests such as the BUN, creatinine and glomerular filtration rate (GFR) are the most accurate ways to diagnose chronic kidney disease and its stage,” said Theune. The warning signs of kidney disease are not always obvious, especially in the early stages but here are some possible symptoms you may notice.
- Producing less urine
- Swelling in the hands, face and legs
- Shortness of breath
- Appetite loss, nausea and vomiting
- High blood pressure
- Feeling cold and tired
“Basic metabolic panel blood tests can reveal the amount of waste products such as urea, creatinine and nitrogen in the blood that indicate kidney disease and its stage,” said Theune.
The creatinine level indicates how well the tiny filters in the kidneys are doing their job in filtering out wastes. Your doctor will use the results of your serum creatinine test to calculate your Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR). “Your GFR indicates the level of your kidneys’ function. If your GFR falls below 30, your doctor may run a few more tests and/or begin appropriate treatment,” said Theune.
Most people do not have symptoms of decreased kidney function until the GFR is 20–30, and they do not feel sick until it is 10–15. A GFR below 15 indicates that you need to start a treatment for kidney failure, which includes dialysis or kidney transplant.
“Knowing your GFR is as important as knowing blood pressure numbers,” said Theune. “And remember the earlier kidney disease is detected the better your outcome will be.”
The progression of chronic kidney disease may be reduced with lifestyle changes such as:
- Controlling high blood pressure and blood sugar
- Eating a healthy lower protein and lower salt diet
- Losing weight
- Stopping smoking
- Avoiding certain medications
Most importantly, Theune recommends that you talk to your doctor honestly about the following.
• Your lifestyle: diet, alcohol and tobacco consumption, physical activity
• Medications or supplements you take.
• Your full health history
• Speak up about any medical conditions you and any family member has had relative to kidney failure.