Chronic kidney disease is an often-unspoken chronic illness, resulting in the gradual loss of kidney or renal function over time. An estimated 37 million adults living in the United States have chronic kidney disease, and many do not know they have it. Therefore, to bring awareness about this serious illness and celebrate National Kidney Month, we are looking at steps you can take to prevent damage from occurring to your kidneys.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle is truly essential when it comes to preventing any chronic illness. Of course, this is much easier said than done because we are creatures of comfort, and change is hard. However, when we adopt a preventative mindset and are purposeful in our daily habits, it is possible to prevent or delay the onset of many chronic illnesses, such as kidney disease.
What can you do to keep your kidneys healthy?
Early detection. Regular visits with your healthcare provider to discuss your health allow you to stay current with immunizations, preventative screenings and identify risk factors and symptoms before they become serious.
As part of an annual check-up, your health provider will order routine lab work to detect whether your kidneys are working correctly. If there are any concerns, further tests are done to address abnormal blood results. If you already have impaired renal function, your provider will monitor your kidney's function and track any changes. Remember, kidney disease is a progressive disease that will worsen over time. Therefore, when visiting your provider, ask how your lab results compare to the last test results. By being aware of changes, you can prevent further decline.
Manage diabetes and blood pressure. The leading cause of kidney failure is poorly managed diabetes and blood pressure.
One in three people with diabetes has chronic kidney disease, making it the leading cause of chronic kidney disease. Diabetes occurs when blood glucose, also called blood sugar levels are too high. Over time, the high blood sugar levels in the blood damage the small vessels in the kidneys, leading to kidney disease. Thus, if you have diabetes, it is essential to work with your healthcare provider to develop a plan to reach your blood sugar goals and protect your kidneys.
High blood pressure is the second leading cause of chronic kidney disease. Almost one in five adults with high blood pressure also has kidney disease. When you have high blood pressure, the force of blood pushing against the walls of the blood vessels is too great. When left untreated, the increased force causes damage to the kidneys and causes the heart and blood vessels to work harder and less effectively. Therefore, it is crucial to protect your kidneys by managing your blood pressure if you have high blood pressure.
Take medication as prescribed. Some prescribed and over-the-counter medicines, as well as herbal or dietary supplements, can harm your kidneys. Therefore, taking medications as prescribed and telling your healthcare provider and pharmacist about all over-the-counter medications and supplements you are taking is important. When new prescriptions are ordered, talk with your healthcare provider about the medication's impact on your kidneys. Additionally, filling your prescriptions at one pharmacy adds a secondary layer of protection, allowing the pharmacist to see if the medicine is contraindicated for kidney disease.
Regular use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, naproxen sodium (Aleve), and aspirin commonly used to treat pain caused by inflammation can damage your kidneys. If you already have kidney disease, speak with your healthcare provider before taking medications containing NSAIDs, as they may increase the risk of acute kidney failure or further decline in renal function.
Eat healthily. Limiting processed foods and focusing on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and lean proteins will not only help keep your kidneys healthy but also keep your entire body healthy. A healthy diet reduces the risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity, which are all risk factors for chronic kidney disease. Aim to consume less than ten percent of your daily calories from added sugars and less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. If you are looking for a more detailed eating plan, check out the DASH eating plan, which has been shown to help lower blood pressure.
Physical activity. Physical activity can help you to manage blood sugar levels and blood pressure, reduce stress, have better quality sleep, manage your weight, and best of all, make you feel great! Aim to be active for at least 30 minutes on most days. If you are starting a new physical activity routine, and have concerns, check with your healthcare provider before finding out which types of physical activity are right for you.
Aim for a healthy weight. If you are overweight or obese, your kidneys work harder due to increased body weight due to heightened metabolic demands. However, losing as little as 5-7 percent of your current body weight will provide substantial health benefits. Not only has weight loss has been shown to improve renal function, but it also improves blood sugar and blood pressure levels.
Some illnesses and diseases are out of our control. While others, such as lifestyle diseases, like chronic kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, are very much within our control. However, we must decide now and prevent them from occurring.
When we take steps to prevent the progression of a disease or illness, we invest in our future and our quality of life. Often we do not realize that as difficult as it may seem some days to commit to making healthy lifestyle choices, it is even more challenging to live with and manage a chronic illness or disease later in life.
I can assure you this will not be easy, nor will it be without obstacles. However, like many things in life, it will take commitment, perseverance, and grace. Your journey towards wellness is worth more than you will ever know. And I hope the people you meet along the way will inspire and encourage you, just as you will inspire and uplift them.
Bentall, A. (2021, September 3). Chronic kidney disease. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-kidney-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20354521
Kovesdy, C. P., Furth, S. L., Zoccali, C., & World Kidney Day Steering Committee. (2017, March 8). Obesity and kidney disease: Hidden consequences of the epidemic. Canadian journal of kidney health and disease. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5433675/
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (nsaids). Cleveland Clinic. (2020, January 25). Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/drugs/11086-non-steroidal-anti-inflammatory-medicines-nsaids
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2016, October). Preventing chronic kidney disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Retrieved February 26, 2022, from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/chronic-kidney-disease-ckd/prevention