Millions of Americans May Be at Risk for Kidney Disease; Simple Blood Tests Can Detect Your Risk

New York, NY
February 26, 2001

What you don’t know can’t hurt, right? Wrong, says the National Kidney Foundation. There are times when ignorance can cost you your health. In fact, four percent of the entire U.S. population is currently at risk for kidney disease, and most people don’t even know that they are in any danger. A recent national survey reported that 11 million Americans have an elevated blood level of a waste product called creatinine. Healthy kidneys remove creatinine--a waste product from the normal activity of your muscles--but when kidney function slows down, the level of creatinine in the blood goes up.

During March, National Kidney Month, the foundation wants to make the public aware that a small elevation in creatinine may be an early sign of kidney disease, occurring at a stage when treatments can help to prevent kidney disease from advancing to a more serious problem. When kidney disease progresses to the stage where 85 to 90 percent of function is lost, dialysis treatment or a kidney transplant is needed to sustain life.

“Unfortunately, kidney disease may be silent for many years,” said William F. Keane, MD, president of the National Kidney Foundation. “Many people may not be aware that they are losing kidney function until their disease reaches an advanced stage. For this reason, it is important to make sure your doctor includes tests of your kidney function, such as your creatinine level, in your regular physical examination,” Dr. Keane said.

Other important tests of kidney function that should be part of your physical checkup are the blood urea nitrogen (BUN) test and a test for protein in the urine. Urea nitrogen is another waste product that builds up in your blood when your kidneys are not functioning properly. Too much protein in your urine is another sign of decreasing kidney function. Protein is normally retained in the blood, but when the kidney’s filtering units are damaged, large amounts of protein can leak into the urine.

“Early detection is the key to preventing kidney disease from progressing to an advanced stage,” Dr. Keane said. In the early stages of kidney disease, treatments such as diet and medications can help to slow the loss of kidney function.

Diabetes is the leading cause of chronic kidney disease in the U.S., followed by high blood pressure. Close to 70 million Americans have these diseases. To help prevent chronic kidney disease and kidney failure and other complications, anyone who has diabetes or high blood pressure should visit his or her doctor regularly and carefully follow the prescribed treatment to control blood sugar and blood pressure.

It’s important for all Americans to know the following signs and symptoms of chronic kidney disease:

  • 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.

See your doctor if you notice any of these. However, remember that you may have kidney disease without any symptoms. 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.

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.