You may not think much about your kidneys unless there’s a problem, but they play a vital role in your health.
Your kidneys continually filter your blood to remove extra fluid and waste, which is released from the body as urine. They also help control blood pressure and keep bones healthy. Consider this information from Know Your Kidneys, an education campaign from the American Kidney Fund, Boehringer Ingelheim and Otsuka, to understand how these organs work, how to protect them and help prevent renal disease, which has no cure.
What is kidney disease?
Kidney disease means these organs are permanently damaged and do not work as they should. This lets extra fluid and waste flow back into your bloodstream instead of leaving your body as urine.
An estimated 37 million Americans are living with kidney disease, and 1 in 3 adults is at risk for the disease, according to the American Kidney Fund. This disease typically does not have any symptoms until the late stages, so most people do not know they have it.
Who is at risk?
Kidney disease doesn’t discriminate; people of all backgrounds get it. However, multiple barriers contribute to inequity in renal care, including systemic racial and ethnic biases, language and cultural differences and where a person lives. These barriers make it more likely for certain people’s renal disease to progress to renal failure – the last stage of the disease. For example, Black Americans make up just 13% of the population, but they are 3.4 times more likely than white Americans to progress to renal failure.
Other risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, hereditary causes or having a family history of the disease, being over the age of 60, obesity and smoking. Talking with your doctor about these risk factors is an important step toward managing your renal health. Being tested for this disease if you are at risk can help detect early problems.
What are the symptoms?
In the later stages of the disease, you may have symptoms like foot swelling, nausea and fatigue. Other potential symptoms include itching, muscle cramps, changes in urine output, loss of appetite, trouble catching your breath and problems sleeping.
Regular blood and urine tests can help monitor your renal health. Ask your doctor to check your kidney function, and if the tests reveal concerns, work together to create a plan.
What are the treatment options?
There is no cure for renal disease, but you can take actions and medicines to manage your condition and possibly help prevent the disease from progressing to renal failure. Depending on the specific cause of your renal problems, your doctor may suggest controlling your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol; eating healthy; quitting smoking; and being more physically active and maintaining a healthy weight. Medicines can also help control this disease for people with diabetes.
If kidney disease progresses to full renal failure, dialysis or a transplant is required to survive.
How to advocate for renal health
Dawn Edwards was just 23 when she developed renal failure, reinforcing that this disease can affect anyone at any age. While Edwards juggles life with dialysis, she also regularly talks to newly diagnosed and high-risk patients.
“My advice is to learn as much as you can and have honest, frank discussions with your doctor,” Edwards said. “Learn about your treatment options, including the side effects of medications, and lifestyle changes that can manage your diabetes and high blood pressure and ultimately slow or stop the progression of kidney disease.”
For more information, visit KidneyFund.org/KnowYourKidneys.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of Getty Images
American Kidney Fund