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Do I Have Kidney Disease?

July 20, 2022, 9:48am EDT

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Raise your hand if you've ever spent hours reading through lists of medical conditions after typing your symptoms into the browser. 

Don't be embarrassed if you've ever fallen down the search engine rabbit hole. You aren't alone and we are here for you! So, stop the endless scrolling and get the facts you need to know about kidney disease.

How do I know if I'm at risk of kidney disease?

1 in 3 adults in the United States is at risk for kidney disease. Several well-known conditions are the main risk factors for kidney disease: 

  • Diabetes: Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease. If left untreated, it can damage the small blood vessels in the kidney. 
  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure is the second leading cause of kidney disease, and many are unaware that they even have it. If untreated, the blood pressure can damage the tiny filters in the kidney.

Other causes of kidney disease include:

  • Family history of kidney failure: Family history is not genetic. Instead, environmental and social factors are likely to cause more than one member to develop kidney failure.
  • Being older: As we age, our kidney function naturally declines. 
  • Inherited disease: Some diseases, like polycystic kidney disease, can be passed down. Genetic testing can confirm this.

Are you at risk of kidney disease? Take this one-minute quiz to find out.

What causes kidney disease?

Diabetes and high blood pressure are the current leading causes of kidney disease but there isn’t a single reason why someone would develop those conditions. Instead, it's a mix of social, environmental, emotional, and medical factors. 

People in under-resourced communities, in particular, are at a higher risk. Fewer resources mean less preventable care options, education, and job opportunities. Sometimes there are fewer green spaces to play in and less affordable, healthy food. In other words, where you live has a bigger influence than genetics in developing kidney disease. 

Learn more about the causes of kidney disease.

What are the signs of kidney disease?

People rarely experience symptoms until the kidneys are failing. If you are experiencing these symptoms, visit a doctor or healthcare provider immediately.

  1. Feeling more tired than normal
  2. Not sleeping well
  3. Itching
  4. Urinating more or less often than usual 
  5. Foamy urine
  6. Blood in urine
  7. Persistently puffy eyes
  8. Swollen arms, legs, feet, or ankles
  9. Poor appetite
  10. Muscle cramping

Two tests to help determine kidney health

If you have one or more kidney disease risk factors or are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, we recommend you speak with your doctor to test your kidney function. Even if you don't have any of the risk factors or aren't experiencing symptoms of kidney disease, it’s still a good idea to regularly screen your kidneys.
These simple blood and urine tests can help you stay on top of your kidney function.

  1. ACR (albumin to creatinine ratio): This urine test looks for albumin, a type of protein. Protein is needed, but it should be in the blood, not the urine. Having protein in your urine may mean that your kidneys are not filtering your blood well and can be a sign of kidney disease.
  2. Serum Creatinine: Creatinine is a waste product in your blood that is typically removed by the kidneys. If kidney function goes down, creatinine levels go up. Results from this test will be used to determine your eGFR.

Getting the conversation started

Start by taking our one-minute for your kidneys quiz to find out if you’re at risk of developing kidney disease. Bring your results to your next healthcare appointment and be ready to talk about:

  • What and how you eat
  • How often you exercise
  • Habits like smoking or drinking
  • Family history
  • Prescribed and over-the-counter medicine, supplements, etc.

Low-cost or free health centers are available if these tests or visits aren't covered by your insurance.

Have more questions?

NKF Cares is a free patient information helpline staffed with trained specialists who will answer your questions and listen to your concerns. Call toll-free at 855.NKF.CARES (855.653.2273) or email nkfcares@kidney.org to get started.

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