Minorities and Kidney Disease

Black Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians and Alaska Natives are at the highest risk for kidney disease and kidney failure. In fact, Black Americans are 3 times more likely and Hispanics are 1½ times more likely to have kidney failure compared to White Americans.

Researchers do not fully understand why minorities are at a higher risk for kidney disease. However, minorities have much higher rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and heart disease, all of which increase the risk for kidney disease. 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 minorities. 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 a minority also means you are at greater risk. The more risk factors you have, the greater your chances of getting kidney disease.

Why are minorities at greater risk for kidney disease?

Some minorities are more likely to have diabetes as compared to White Americans. In fact over 3 million black Americans and 10% of Hispanics have diabetes. American Indians and Alaska Natives are twice as likely to have diabetes as White Americans. Having diabetes can lead to kidney disease and kidney failure. The rates of kidney failure caused by diabetes have doubled in Asians ages 30-39 and increased 30% in American Indians since 2000. Diabetes also causes kidney failure more often in Hispanics than in White Americans.

High blood pressure is also a serious problem for minorities. High blood pressure strikes 1 out of 3 Black Americans, one of the highest rates in the world. Nearly 1 in 4 Hispanics has high blood pressure and most do not know that high blood pressure can cause kidney disease.

How does access to healthcare play a role?

Minorities may have less access to healthcare than other Americans. For example, nearly 2 out of 5, Hispanics, 1 out of 4 Black Americans, and 1 out of 3 American Indians and Alaska Natives are uninsured. Many minorities 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.

What to do?

Not all minorities 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.