Six Steps to Healthier Kidneys

Most Americans know that heart disease and cancer can be silent killers and understand that monitoring blood pressure and cholesterol are critical to protecting their health. Too few adults—and not enough doctors—realize, however, that chronic kidney disease (CKD) is another common, life-threatening illness that often goes undetected until very advanced when it could be diagnosed early through simple tests.

Studies report that 37 million Americans suffer from CKD and millions more are at risk. Worse, today’s epidemics of diabetes and obesity could contribute to even higher rates of CKD in the future. Undiagnosed and untreated, CKD can lead to serious health problems including kidney failure. Caught early, it can often be managed, and kidney damage can be slowed or stopped. That’s why early testing for people at risk is so important.

In preparation for National Kidney Month and World Kidney Day, the NKF offers this 6-step primer for protecting health.

Step 1: Know These Facts
6 Things Healthy Kidneys Do:
  • Regulate the body’s fluid levels
  • Filter wastes and toxins from the blood
  • Release a hormone that regulates blood pressure
  • Activate Vitamin D to maintain healthy bones
  • Release the hormone that directs production of red blood cells
  • Keep blood minerals in balance (sodium, phosphorus, potassium)
8 Problems CKD Can Cause:
  • Cardiovascular diseas
  • Heart attack and stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Death
  • Weak bones
  • Nerve damage (neuropathy)
  • Kidney failure (end-stage renal disease, or ESRD)
  • Anemia or low red blood cell count
Step 2: Assess Your Risk
4 Main Risk Factors:
  • Diabetes (self or family)
  • High blood pressure (self or family)
  • Cardiovascular disease (self or family)
  • Family history of kidney failure or diabetes or high blood pressure
10 Additional Risk Factors:
  • African-American heritage
  • Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander heritage
  • Age 60 or older
  • Obesity
  • Low birth weight
  • Native American heritage
  • Lupus, other autoimmune disorders
  • Chronic urinary tract infections
  • Kidney stones
  • Prolonged use of NSAIDs, a type of painkillers, such as ibuprofen and naproxen
Step 3: Recognize Symptoms
Most people with early CKD have no symptoms, which is why early testing is critical. By the time symptoms appear, CKD may be advanced, and symptoms can be misleading. Pay attention to these:
8 Possible Trouble Signs:
  • Fatigue, weakness
  • Difficult, painful urination
  • Foamy urine
  • Pink, dark urine (blood in urine)
  • Puffy eyes
  • Swollen face, hands, abdomen, ankles, feet
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased need to urinate (especially at night)
Step 4: Get Tested
If you or a loved one belong to a high-risk group, ask your primary-care physician about these tests-and be especially insistent about the last one. Your doctor may want to perform other tests as well.

What: Blood Pressure
Why: High blood pressure can damage small blood vessels (glomeruli) in the kidneys. It is the second-leading cause of kidney failure after diabetes.
Good Score: Below 140/90 is good for most people. Below 130/80 is better if you have chronic kidney disease. Below 120/80 is best.

What: Protein in Urine
Why: Traces of a type of protein, albumin in urine (albuminuria) is an early sign of CKD. Persistent amounts of albumin and other proteins in the urine (proteinuria) indicate kidney damage.
Good Score: Less than 30 mg of albumin per gram of urinary creatinine (a normal waste product)

What: Creatinine in Blood (Serum Creatinine)
Why: Healthy kidneys filter creatinine (a waste product from muscle activity) out of the blood. When kidney function is reduced, creatinine levels rise.
Good Score: 0.6 to 1.2 mg per deciliter of blood, depending on other variables

What: Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR)
Why: This is the most sensitive and accurate gauge of kidney function.Doctors measure blood creatinine levels and perform a calculation based on age, race, and gender.
Good Score: Over 90 is good. 60-89 should be monitored. Less than 60 for 3 months indicates CKD.

Step 5: Stay Healthy
6 Things People with CKD Should Do:
  • Lower high blood pressure
  • Moderate protein consumption
  • Avoid NSAIDs, a type of painkiller
  • Reduce salt intake
  • Get an annual flu shot
  • Keep blood-sugar levels under control if diabetic
9 Things Everyone Should Do:
  • Exercise regularly
  • Control weight
  • Follow a balanced diet
  • Quit smoking
  • Drink only in moderation
  • Stay hydrated
  • Monitor cholesterol levels
  • Get an annual physical
  • Know your family medical history
Step 6: Learn More
  • National Kidney Foundation offers a free kidney health check through its KEEP Healthy program. Learn about the kidneys, risk factors for kidney disease, and steps to take to keep your kidneys healthy and reduce your risk. Learn more and find one near you.