March is Kidney Month: National Kidney Foundation Urges Americans to Have Kidney Function Tested

New York, NY
October 25, 1999

Kidney disease often may be silent for many years until it reaches an advanced stage. "For this reason, it is important to make sure your doctor includes tests of your kidney function as part of your regular physical examination," says Joel D. Kopple, MD, president of the National Kidney Foundation (NKF). "These tests should be considered as essential a part of an annual checkup as blood sugar, blood cholesterol and blood pressure measurements," Dr. Kopple continues. Kidney function tests are especially important for individuals who have an increased risk of developing kidney disease, such as those with diabetes or high blood pressure, or a family history of either of these diseases. Diabetes and high blood pressure are among the leading causes of chronic kidney failure in the U.S.—together they account for roughly 60 percent of the new cases each year.

While African Americans make up almost 13 percent of the U.S. population, they comprise nearly 30 percent of End Stage Kidney Disease patients. High blood pressure is the leading cause of End Stage Kidney Disease in African Americans, accounting for 40 percent of new cases in this group.

“We believe everyone should have an annual urine test for the presence of a protein called albumin,” Dr. Kopple recommends. This can help to identify people who are at risk for developing kidney disease before they notice any symptoms. Recent research has also shown that the presence of albumin in the urine considerably increases the risk of heart disease–the number one cause of death in the U.S.

Two simple blood tests also help to determine if your kidneys are functioning normally. These tests, called the blood-urea-nitrogen (BUN) and serum creatinine, measure the levels in your blood of waste substances that are normally eliminated from the body by your kidneys. However, they may build up to high levels if your kidney function is reduced.

The warning signs of kidney disease include:

  • blood and/or protein in the urine;
  • high blood pressure;
  • a creatinine blood test greater than 1.2 for women and 1.4 for men
  • burning or difficulty during urination;
  • more frequent urination, particularly at night;
  • puffiness around the eyes, swelling of the hands and feet, especially in children.

If you have any of these signs, see your doctor right away. However, remember that you may have kidney disease without any symptoms. When kidney disease is detected early, treatments such as dietary modification and careful control of high blood pressure or diabetes may help to prevent or slow the progression of kidney damage. When kidney disease progresses to total kidney failure, treatments such as dialysis or a transplant are needed to maintain life.

The National Kidney Foundation urges you to learn more about your kidneys and to get regular checkups that include tests for blood pressure, blood sugar, urine protein and kidney function. For more information about the kidneys and kidney disease, contact the National Kidney Foundation at (800) 622-9010.

The National Kidney Foundation is dedicated to preventing kidney and urinary tract diseases, improving the health and well-being of individuals and families affected by these diseases and increasing the availability of all organs for transplantation.