American Indians/Alaska Natives and Kidney Disease

American Indians and Alaska Natives are at greater risk for kidney disease and kidney failure than White Americans. In fact, American Indians and Alaska Natives are 50% more likely to have kidney failure compared to White Americans.

Researchers do not fully understand why American Indians and Alaska Natives are at a higher risk for kidney disease. However, American Indians and Alaska Natives are twice as likely as White Americans to have diabetes, and diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease. High blood pressure, diet, obesity, and access to healthcare may also play a role.

What is kidney disease?

Healthy kidneys have many important jobs. They remove waste products and extra water from your body, help make red blood cells, help keep your bones healthy and help control blood pressure. When you have kidney disease, kidney damage keeps the kidneys from doing these important jobs the way they should. Kidney damage may be due to a physical injury or a disease like diabetes, high blood pressure, or other health problems.

If you have kidney disease, you may need to take medicines, limit salt and certain foods in your diet, get regular exercise, and more.

Finding and treating your kidney disease early can help slow or even stop kidney disease from getting worse. But if your kidney disease gets worse, it can lead to kidney failure. If your kidneys fail, you will need dialysis or a kidney transplant 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 American Indians and Alaska Natives. Your chances of getting kidney disease are greater if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, a family history of chronic kidney disease, are obese, or 60 years or older. Being American Indian or Alaska Native also means you are at greater risk. The more risk factors you have, the greater your chances of getting kidney disease.

Why are American Indians and Alaska Natives at greater risk for kidney disease?

American Indians and Alaska Natives have more diabetes and are more likely to be obese than other Americans. Diet and lack of exercise are key factors that cause diabetes and obesity. Having diabetes or being obese can lead to kidney disease and kidney failure. Heart disease also plays a major role among American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Hereditary may also be involved. Research shows that the Pima Indians in Arizona may be born with one or more "high risk" genes that make them more likely to have diabetic kidney disease.

How does access to healthcare play a role?

American Indians and Alaska Natives may have less access to healthcare than other Americans. For example, nearly one in three American Indians and Alaska Natives are uninsured. Many American Indians and Alaska Natives do not even know they have kidney disease until it's in the latest stages. By then it is too late to slow or stop the kidney damage from getting worse. Other factors that get in the way of good healthcare are cultural differences and communication problems.

What to do?

Not all American Indians and Alaska Natives 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. This can be an early sign of kidney disease.
    • A simple blood test for GFR, which stands for glomerular filtration rate. Your GFR number tells you how well your kidneys are working. The lab estimates your GFR using a simple blood test called creatinine (a waste product), along with your age, race, and gender.
  • 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, it's important for you to find out.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle. Be sure to exercise, eat a healthy diet, lose weight if needed, avoid smoking, and limit alcohol. A healthy lifestyle can keep you from getting kidney disease, and 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.