According to the United States National Kidney Foundation, a third of adults in the country are at risk of kidney disease. Meanwhile, according to the World Kidney Day website, 8% to 10% of the global population has kidney damage. In addition, millions die yearly due to complications linked to Chronic Kidney Diseases (CKD).
One of the things that makes kidney problems so dangerous is that they're often advanced before they're detected. So, instead of having the opportunity to enhance your kidney health or slow down the progression of a CKD, you're more likely to need regular dialysis or even an urgent transplant when you receive a CKD diagnosis.
Let’s explore everything you need to know about keeping your kidneys healthy and what you can do to slow the progression of a CKD.
What do your kidneys do?
Healthy kidneys perform several vital roles to maintain our health, including:
- Regulating our body’s fluid levels
- Removing waste products and toxins from our blood
- Producing and releasing various hormones into our blood, including those that regulate blood pressure and produce red blood cells
- Activating vitamin D, which is vital for our bone health
- Keeping the minerals in our blood, like phosphorus, potassium and sodium, in balance
What other problems can kidney disease lead to?
CKDs themselves are serious illnesses, potentially leading to kidney failure and putting your life at risk.
In addition, CKDs can increase your risk of suffering other conditions that may also be life-threatening, including:
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
- High blood pressure
- Weak bones
- Neuropathy (nerve damage)
- Low red blood cell count
What are the main risk factors for kidney disease?
Some of the conditions kidney disease can lead to are also risk factors for developing a CKD in the first place. The primary risk factors are:
- You already suffer from heart disease, or there is a history of heart disease in your family
- You already have high blood pressure, or there is a history of it in your family
- You have diabetes, or there is a history of diabetes in your family
Diabetes and high blood pressure are the two leading causes of kidney failure.
In addition to these primary risk factors, the following are also risk factors for developing kidney disease:
- Being over 60
- Having a low birth weight
- Long-term use of painkillers
- Having auto-immune disorders like lupus
- Suffering chronic urinary tract infections
- Developing kidney stones
What are the symptoms of kidney disease?
Our bodies can cope with a significant reduction in kidney function, so you might not exhibit any symptoms of kidney disease until your condition is in its advanced stages. As a result, doctors often only identify early-stage CKDs while testing for other conditions via blood or urine tests and detecting problems this way.
When you do start experiencing symptoms of kidney disease, these can include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Increased thirst
- Swollen ankles, feet, abdomen, face or hands due to water retention
- Shortness of breath
- Blood in your urine
- Foamy urine
- Needing to urinate more regularly, particularly at night
- Experiencing pain when urinating
- Trouble sleeping
- Itchy skin
- Muscle cramps
- Feeling sick
- Erectile dysfunction in men
How do doctors test for kidney disease?
Doctors can perform many tests to identify kidney disease. If you’re suffering from any of the symptoms above or are in a high-risk group for developing kidney disease, your doctor might conduct the following tests:
- A blood pressure test, which may then lead to other tests. If you're ever diagnosed with kidney disease, your doctor will monitor your blood pressure regularly, and you may have to check it yourself at home. In addition, your doctor may set you a target blood pressure.
- A urine test to check the levels of protein in your blood. Traces of albumin, a specific type of protein, can be a sign of early-stage kidney disease, while more significant amounts of albumin and other proteins indicate kidney damage.
- A blood filtration test that will check how well your kidneys filter waste and toxins from your blood.
Living with kidney disease…or preventing it in the first place
Most lifestyle habits a doctor would tell you to follow or change following a CKD diagnosis are the same as the advice you would get around preventing kidney disease from developing in the first place. Most of the habits are the things we all ought to be doing to live a healthier life anyway!
The main things you should do to reduce your risk of developing kidney disease or to help control it if you receive a diagnosis are:
- Follow a healthy diet, including ensuring you consume plenty of fruit and vegetables, meals containing starchy foods like potatoes, rice and pasta, and reducing your saturated fat, salt and sugar intake. In addition, if you're diagnosed with a CKD, your doctor might provide you with additional advice specifically related to kidney disease, such as reducing your intake of foods containing potassium or phosphate.
- Reduce your alcohol consumption. Depending on your condition, you may still be able to consume alcohol, but this can cause elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which can affect your kidney function.
- Exercise regularly if you can. You may tire more quickly if you have advanced kidney disease or receive dialysis. In this case, speak to your doctor, who will recommend a physical activity programme. In the early stages of kidney disease, your ability to exercise should be the same as someone with healthy kidneys. As well as improving your kidney health, regular exercise will improve your general health and reduce your risk of developing problems associated with CKDs, such as heart disease.
- Stop smoking to reduce your risk of developing conditions associated with CKDs.
- Take any prescribed medications as directed by your doctor or pharmacist. You should also be aware of how your medications interact with other medicines. Always check with your doctor before taking painkillers, nutritional supplements, or other over-the-counter medications.
- Manage any underlying conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, which can be risk factors for or develop due to kidney disease.
- Get vaccinated. CKDs can significantly strain your body, and any medications may weaken your immune system, especially if you've had a transplant. Get an annual influenza shot if you can, and take up any other vaccinations.
Your kidneys are covered with Now Health International!
Our international health insurance plans include coverage for treatment for kidney disease, so long as it isn't a pre-existing condition when you become a member.
View all our plans here or contact us to learn more about our health plans!