By David Buice
National Kidney Month, observed every March, helps remind us of the importance of our kidneys. These two small, vital organs, each about the size of a computer mouse, filter the blood in our body every 30 minutes, removing wastes, toxins, and excess fluid. They also help control blood pressure, stimulate the production of red blood cells, keep your bones healthy and regulate blood chemicals essential for life.
Unfortunately, kidney diseases are common and are the ninth leading cause of death in the U.S. Approximately 37 million Americans live with chronic kidney disease (CKD). Many are unaware of the problem because symptoms usually don’t show until the disease has progressed to a fairly serious stage.
Facts about CKD
CKD is a condition in which the kidneys are damaged and cannot filter blood as well as they should. Consequently, excess fluid and waste from your blood remain in the body and may cause other health problems, such as heart disease and stroke.
CKD has five stages, from very mild Stage 1 to Stage 5 and complete kidney failure. This level is referred to as end-stage renal disease (ESRD), and at this point, you’ll need dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive.
Symptoms of CKD
- The signs and symptoms of CKD may include:
- Nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite
- Fatigue, weakness, and sleep problems
- Changes in how much you urinate
- Swelling of feet and ankles
- Persistent itching
- Chest pain, if fluid builds up around the lining of the heart
- Shortness of breath, if fluid builds up in the lungs
- High blood pressure that’s difficult to control
Those at Highest Risk of CKD
Anyone can get CKD, but having high blood pressure puts you at greater risk of developing kidney disease that can lead to kidney failure and death if not treated. In addition to high blood pressure, other conditions that put you in the at-risk category for developing CKD include:
- Having type 1 or type 2 diabetes
- A family history of kidney disease
- Being over 60
- Being African American, Hispanic, Native American, or Asian
Prevention of CKD
- The good news is that you can protect your kidneys with these healthy lifestyle habits.
- Be careful with over-the counter medications. When taking OTC pain relievers, follow the instructions on the label carefully. Taking too many pain relievers can lead to kidney damage. To be safe, ask your doctor if certain OTC medications are safe for you.
- Maintain a healthy weight. If you’re overweight or obese, losing even a small amount of weight can improve blood pressure readings and help prevent CKD.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking can damage your kidneys and make existing damage worse. Talk to your
doctor about strategies for quitting.
- Select healthier foods. Focus on fruits and vegetables, lean meat, whole grains, and other heart-healthy foods.
- Minimize daily salt consumption. Limit yourself to approximately 2,300 mg (about 1 teaspoon) daily.
- Get enough sleep. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
- Manage stress and make physical activity part of your day. Consider enjoying stress-reducing activities — music, reading, meditation — and aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.
Getting Medical Help
If you have persistent symptoms of kidney disease, particularly if you’re in one of the at-risk categories, you should make an appointment as soon as possible with your doctor. The symptoms of kidney disease sometimes mimic those of other illnesses, and your doctor will likely monitor your blood pressure and kidney function with blood and urine tests to determine if you’re suffering from CKD.