African Americans and Kidney Disease

African Americans have a higher rate of kidney failure than any other group of people. In fact, African Americans are three to four times more likely to have kidney failure than white Americans.

It is not fully understood why African Americans are at a higher risk. However, diabetes, high blood pressure, family background, and access to healthcare play major roles. Being overweight is also a factor because it contributes to a higher rate of diabetes in African-Americans.

What is kidney disease?

Healthy kidneys do many important jobs. They remove waste products and extra water from your body, help make red blood cells, and help control blood pressure. When you have kidney disease, it means your kidneys are damaged and they cannot do these important jobs well enough. Kidneys can become damaged from a physical injury or a disease like diabetes, high blood pressure, or other disorders.

If you have kidney disease, you will need a follow a treatment plan that may include taking medicines, restricting salt, limiting certain foods, getting exercise, controlling diabetes, and more.

Finding and treating kidney disease early can help slow or even stop kidney disease from getting worse. But if kidney disease gets worse, it can lead to kidney failure. Once kidneys fail, treatment with dialysis or a kidney transplant is needed to stay alive.

Can anyone get kidney disease?

Yes. Anyone can get kidney disease at any age. But some people are more likely than others to get it, including African Americans. Having diabetes, high blood pressure, a family history of chronic kidney disease, and being 60 years or older also increases the risk for kidney disease. The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to get kidney disease.

Why are African Americans at greater risk for kidney disease?

African Americans have more diabetes and high blood pressure than other Americans. Having diabetes or high blood pressure can lead to kidney disease and kidney failure. Heart and blood vessel disease also plays a major role among African Americans.

Heredity or genetics may also be involved. According to a recent study by the National Institute of Health, some African Americans are born with a "high risk" gene. African Americans with kidney disease who have the high risk gene are twice as likely to progress to kidney failure as African Americans without the high-risk gene or white Americans.

How does access to healthcare play a role?

According to a recent study, many African Americans do not even know they have kidney disease until it's in the latest stages. This means it is not found early enough, when treatment can still help slow or stop the damage from getting worse. As a result, the rate of kidney failure for African Americans is three to four times higher than white Americans. And the problem appears to be specific for kidney disease. According to the same study, most African Americans who have diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol levels know that they have it.

What to do?

Not all African Americans will get kidney disease. And not everyone who has diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, older age, or a family history of kidney disease will get it. But if you have any of these risk factors, you should:

  • Get tested for kidney disease. There are two simple tests for kidney disease:
    • A simple urine test checks to see if you have protein in your urine. Your body needs protein. But it should be in the blood, not the urine. Having a small amount of protein in your urine may mean that your kidneys are not filtering your blood well enough. Having protein in your urine is called "Albuminuria." This can be a sign of early kidney disease.
    • A simple blood test for GFR (glomerular filtration rate). Your GFR number tells you how well your kidneys are working. Your GFR is estimated from a simple blood test for a waste product called creatinine. Your creatinine number is used in a math formula along with your age, race, and gender to find your GFR.
  • Get tested for diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. If you don't know whether you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease, ask your healthcare provider. It's important to find out.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle. Be sure to exercise, eat healthy, lose weight if needed, avoid smoking, and limit alcohol. A healthy lifestyle can keep you from getting kidney disease. It can also help slow or stop kidney disease from getting worse.

If you would like more information, please contact us.

©2014 National Kidney Foundation. All rights reserved. This material does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.