Research shows that in the U.S., about 33% of adults are at high risk for developing kidney disease, and over 10% have it. Unfortunately, most people with kidney disease are unaware. If you are age 60 or older, you are at a greater risk for developing some form of kidney disease. In fact, about 40% of people older than 60 in the United States have some type of chronic kidney disease.
March is National Kidney Awareness month — a time to raise recognition and promote knowledge about the kidneys in an effort to promote good health. Take a minute to review some important information and facts about the kidneys.
Why Kidneys are Important
Your kidneys are two of the most important organs in your body, each about the size of a fist. Inside each kidney are about a million nephrons that help filter your blood and remove unnecessary waste from your body. The kidneys filter and return to the bloodstream roughly 200 quarts of fluid a day, with about two quarts being removed from the body as urine.
The kidneys have several other functions including: balancing the volume of fluid in the body, changing blood pressure, assisting in creating red blood cells, and producing active Vitamin D. While it is possible to survive on just one kidney, it is not possible to live without any kidneys (unless you want to remain on dialysis the rest of your life).
Common Risk Factors for Seniors
While some may be born with kidney issues from a genetic family history, there are many other common risk factors leading to kidney disease. For seniors, these often include the following:
- Heart disease
- NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents) medications such as aspirin
- Herbal preparations
- Radiologic contrast dyes
Do You Recognize the Early Signs and Symptoms?
There are several signs and symptoms of chronic kidney disease, However, because the signs are often subtle (or easily masked by other conditions), people often go undiagnosed until their disease is an advanced stage. The best way to properly diagnose someone with kidney disease is through a blood and urine test. Other common signs and symptoms may include:
- Increased fatigue
- Constant thirst
- Shortness of breath
- Skin rashes
- Trouble managing diabetes or high blood pressure
- Frequent urination, especially at night time
- Frequent urinary tract infections
- Frequent kidney stones
- Puffiness around the eyes
- Swelling of the hands, feet, ankles, and abdomen
- Having traces of blood/ protein in the urine.
When your kidneys don’t function well, it can cause some major health problems including damage to the nerves, weakening of bones, cardiovascular disease, anemia, high blood pressure, stroke, and kidney failure. Early detection and treatment are key, and can slow or prevent the progression of kidney disease. You can ask your doctor for a GFR (glomerular filtration rate) to measure how well your kidneys are functioning (if it measures less than 60, your kidneys aren’t working properly) or a Urine albumin-to-creatinine ratio (ACR) which estimates the amount of a type of protein (albumin) that’s found in the urine.
Do not wait until your symptoms worsen to get checked. Ensuring that you are taking the necessary precautions will help. Often, kidney disease can be prevented through healthy lifestyle changes and proper monitoring. The following are ways to lower your risk:
- Drink at least eight cups of water daily.
- Eat a healthy diet high in vitamins and minerals: fresh fruits and vegetables (avoiding canned and processed foods as much as possible), whole grains, lean meats, etc.
- Limit your sodium, sugar, and fat consumption. Consult with a doctor or dietician for kidney-friendly diets.
- Do not smoke and moderate your alcohol consumption.
- Exercise regularly– securing a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise a day.
- Maintain a healthy weight. If you are obese, lose weight.
- If you have a medical condition (like diabetes or high blood pressure), make sure to monitor it closely and discuss any care options with your medical team.
- Get screened annually, especially if you have a family history of kidney disease, or have any of the other associated risks. If you are over age 60 (or have diabetes, high blood pressure, or have a family history of kidney failure), ask your doctor annually for an ACR urine test or a GFR blood test.
- Avoid excessive use of over-the-counter pain medications (or NSAIDs). While these medications can heal your aches and pains, taking too many over time can actually damage your kidneys (especially if you already have kidney disease).
If you have kidney disease and fail to get checked, your kidneys could begin to fail, making it necessary for you to go on dialysis or have a kidney transplant.
Many kidney diseases can be treated successfully. Like mentioned earlier in the article, careful monitoring and management of high blood pressure and blood sugar can help prevent your kidneys from worsening.
Because some kidney diseases have unknown causes, treatment options may not be obtainable yet. However, many doctors and scientists continually seek new and more effective ways to treat different kidney conditions.
In some instances, kidney disease may lead to kidney failure–where dialysis may be necessary, or even a kidney transplant. Fortunately kidney transplants have excellent success rates.
Education is key in both preventing and managing chronic kidney disease. With National Kidney Awareness Month upon us, we hope you and your senior loved one can better understand this in order to prolong your life and promote good health. Let us help you with your questions. Call (435) 787-1369 to see how we can help.