Preventing kidney disease: 7 small changes that can make a big difference

Did you know that 33 percent of adults in the U.S. are at risk for kidney disease? According to the National Kidney Foundation, 37 million American adults have chronic kidney disease (CKD) and millions more are at increased risk. March is National Kidney Month and this is a good time to learn more about taking steps to protect your kidneys. The kidneys play an important part in keeping our bodies balanced and healthy. Their main job is to filter extra water and wastes out of the blood to make urine. They also perform other functions such as release hormones that regulate your blood pressure and making vitamins that control growth.

Kidney damage

When the kidneys become damaged, their capacity to filter blood diminishes. This can cause wastes to build up as well as other health problems. Chronic kidney disease is defined by decreased kidney function and/or evidence of kidney damage, usually marked by protein in the urine. Diabetes and high blood pressure are the leading causes of kidney disease and kidney failure, according to the National Institute on Aging. However, small changes can protect your kidneys as well as strengthen your overall health.

The age factor

With age, kidney function generally declines, resulting in increased vulnerability for chronic kidney disease. As the kidneys age, their filtering capacity decreases, the overall amount of kidney tissue may decrease and the blood vessels that supply the kidneys may narrow, further reducing the capacity of the kidneys to filter blood, according to the National Institute on Aging. The decline in kidney function with age is common, but occurs at different rates for different people. However, high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes can accelerate these changes.

Kidney disease can get worse over time without a person noticing because kidney disease often has no symptoms in its early stages. In fact, the condition can go undetected until it is very advanced. Advanced kidney disease could lead to kidney failure and the need for dialysis.

Symptoms of advanced kidney disease
  • Chest pain
  • Dry skin
  • Edema
  • Itching or numbness
  • Feeling tired
  • Headaches
  • Increased or decreased urination
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sleep problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
What can be done?

Testing is the only way to know how well your kidneys are working. You should get checked for kidney disease if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and/or a family history of kidney failure. To check for kidney disease, health care providers use a blood test that checks how well your kidneys are filtering your blood, called GFR. GFR stands for glomerular filtration rate. There is also a urine test that checks for albumin. Albumin is a protein that can pass into the urine when the kidneys are damaged. According to the National Kidney Foundation:

  • A GFR of 60 or higher is in the normal range.
  • A GFR below 60 may mean kidney disease.
  • A GFR of 15 or lower may mean kidney failure.

Whether testing reveals kidney damage or not, there are healthful steps you can take to help prevent or manage kidney disease. The most important way to protect your kidneys is to manage or prevent conditions that cause damage such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. The following steps can also help to protect your kidneys and overall health.

  1. Eat a healthy diet that limits sodium and added sugars
  2. Exercise regularly. Aim for 30 minutes of daily cardiovascular activity.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, work with your doctor on a weight loss plan.
  4. Try to get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night
  5. Stop smoking
  6. Drink in moderation
  7. Reduce your stress level