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What You Need to Know About Kidney Disease


Many Americans know little to nothing about kidney disease until it's too late because it often has no symptoms. However, many people have family members or friends who have diabetes or high blood pressure — the two leading causes of kidney failure.

Your kidneys — two bean-shaped, fist-sized organs located in the middle of your back on either side of the spine — play an important role in keeping you healthy. Their main job is to filter your blood to remove wastes that could damage your body. They also help to control your blood pressure and make hormones that your body needs.

Each of your kidneys contains about 1 million tiny filters called nephrons. Each nephron contains tiny blood vessels and urine collecting tubes. Most people develop kidney disease when the nephrons can no longer filter blood as well as they used to. Damage to the nephrons usually happens slowly, over many years. As more and more filters fail, the kidneys eventually are unable to filter your blood well enough to keep the body healthy. At that point you need either dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Testing for Kidney Disease

You should be tested for kidney disease if you are at risk. Ask yourself these questions:

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you are at risk for kidney disease.

A nephrologist or your primary care provider can order two simple tests to check your kidneys:

  • Glomerular filtration rate (GFR) - This blood test measures how much blood your kidneys filter each minute, which is known as your GFR. This shows how well your kidneys are working. A GFR of 60 or higher is in the normal range; a GFR below 60 may mean you have kidney disease.
  • Urine protein - This urine test checks for protein in your urine, which can be a sign of kidney disease. Protein can leak into the urine when the filters in the kidneys are damaged. (Note: This test has several different names, including a check for "proteinuria," "albuminuria" or "microalbuminuria.")

If you think you need to be tested for kidney disease, speak with your primary care physician or call 770.214.CARE for a physician referral now.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is one of the fastest-growing conditions in Americans of all ages. An estimated 21 million Americans have some form of diabetes, and around 6.2 million of them are undiagnosed. That's why it's so crucial to detect and treat diabetes — or better yet, to prevent it.

Those at most risk for type 2 diabetes include people who:

  • Are 45 years of age or older
  • Are overweight or obese
  • Don't get enough exercise
  • Have close relatives who have type 2 diabetes
  • Are of American Indian, Alaska Native, African American, Hispanic/Latino, or Pacific Islander descent

If your body is unable to use blood sugar — called "glucose" — the way it should, you have diabetes. A healthy body uses glucose for the energy it needs to do everything it does, including make new cells. If the cells of the body can't use glucose the way they should, the glucose level increases to an abnormal level, causing damage to the kidneys, eyes, feet, heart and other parts of the body.

Your kidneys clean your blood. If they are damaged, waste and fluids build up in your blood instead of leaving your body. Over time, undiagnosed, untreated or uncontrolled type 2 diabetes can damage your kidneys. This is called diabetic nephropathy.

If the damage continues, your kidneys could fail. You can slow down kidney damage or keep it from getting worse by controlling your blood sugar and blood pressure with diet, exercise and prescribed medications. This is also very important because kidney disease increases your risk for heart disease and stroke.

Kidney Failure

If one or both kidneys fail completely and the damage can't be reversed, the condition is called kidney failure or end-stage renal disease (ESRD). When this occurs, your kidneys can no longer filter wastes well enough to keep you healthy. The symptoms for ESRD include fatigue, weakness, nausea, vomiting and itching.

Treatments for kidney failure include dialysis or a kidney transplant, an operation that places a healthy kidney from a donor or living family member into your body. The transplanted kidney takes over the work of the two kidneys that failed, and you no longer need dialysis. The wait for a kidney can be long. However, if you have a transplant, you will take drugs for the rest of your life to keep your body from rejecting the new kidney.

Remember, kidney disease is usually a progressive disease, so the damage tends to be permanent and can't be undone. That’s why it is vital to identify kidney disease early, before more damage is done and while can be treated effectively.

Dr. Vela-Ortiz is board-certified in internal medicine with a specialty in nephrology. Carroll County Nephrology, with practices in Carrollton, Villa Rica and Bremen. For more information, call 770.832.0429 or visit www.ccnpc.com.