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What is kidney disease and how can we take care of our kidneys?

Published 11 Mar 2021 • By Courtney Johnson

Though they are small in size, the kidneys perform many crucial functions in the body that help to keep us in good health, including filtering waste and excess fluid from the bloodstream. A number of health conditions can damage the kidneys or inhibit their function, and with time, lead to kidney failure.

For World Kidney Day, we wanted to raise awareness for kidney disease and highlight a few ways we can protect our kidneys!

What types of conditions affect the kidneys? What causes these conditions? How can we take care of our kidneys?

We explain it all in our article!

What is kidney disease and how can we take care of our kidneys?

What role do kidneys play in the body?

Having healthy kidneys is vital to having a healthy body. The kidneys primarily filter waste, excess fluid and other waste products from the bloodstream, but also regulate the body’s salt, potassium, and pH levels. These toxins and excess nutrients are sent from the kidneys to the bladder and then are removed from the body in our urine. The kidneys also have a hand in regulating blood pressure and red blood cell production through the secretion of hormones, and activating vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium to maintain strong bones.

When the kidneys become damaged, they function less efficiently and can even lead to a number of health problems, such as swelling, poor sleep, nerve damage, weak bones, and malnutrition. Over time if the damage continues, the kidneys may cease function entirely (renal failure), calling for dialysis or even kidney transplantation.

Kidney disease affects around 3 million people in the UK, and approximately 90% of patients aren’t even aware that they have it. This is why it is so important that we take care of our kidneys and be aware of the conditions that can affect them.

What are the different types and causes of kidney disease?

Chronic kidney disease (CKD)

The most commonly occurring type of kidney disease is chronic kidney disease (CKD). Also known as chronic kidney failure, CKD describes a state of gradual loss of kidney function over time.

CKD is often caused by high blood pressure, which increases pressure on and damages the glomeruli, the small blood vessels in the kidneys where the blood is filtered. Diabetes can also cause CKD, as the increased sugar levels in the blood also can hurt the glomeruli. In the two cases, prolonged damage deteriorates kidney function to the point where they can no longer clean the blood on their own. At this point, dialysis is required.

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD)

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is a genetic disorder that causes fluid-filled cysts to grow in the kidneys. It is a form of CKD that also harms kidney function and can lead to kidney failure.

It is important to note that PKD is distinct from individual kidney cysts that can develop later in life - PKD cysts are more sever, can change the shape of the kidneys, and can cause other complications, such as cysts in the liver, high blood pressure, and problems with the blood vessels in the brain and heart.

Kidney stones

Kidney stones, also called renal calculi, are another of the most common kidney issues. They are small, hard deposits of minerals and acid salts that form in the kidneys. They usually leave the body during urination. Though they rarely cause damage, kidney stones can be painful when passing through the urinary tract.

Urinary tract infections

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are bacterial infections that occur in any part of the urinary tract. They most commonly affect the urethra or bladder (cystitis), but if left untreated, they can spread to the kidneys (pyelonephritis) and lead to kidney failure.

Glomerulonephritis

Glomerulonephritis (GN) is a term used to describe inflammation of the glomeruli. It can be caused by certain infections, medications, or congenital conditions, and if left untreated it can lead to complete kidney failure.

What are the symptoms or warning signs of kidney disease?

Kidney disease can be difficult to detect, as it often progresses without any significant symptoms until it is already quite advanced. The majority of patients with early stages of kidney disease go undiagnosed. Some of the early warning signs include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Poor appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle cramps
  • Swelling in the feet and ankles
  • Dry or flaky skin 
  • Persistent itching
  • Frequent urination, particularly at night

How can we prevent kidney disease and take care of our kidneys?

To raise awareness for the importance of kidney health, the World Kidney Day committee, a joint initiative of the International Society of Nephrology (ISN) and the International Federation of Kidney Foundations (IFKF), has shared 8 Golden Rules for reducing the risk of kidney disease:

editor_meta_bo_img_2bcb02074611267ef6045051c474f765.png Stay active: By staying fit and engaging in regular physical activity, you can maintain a healthy body weight, lower your blood pressure, and therefore lower your risk for CKD.

editor_meta_bo_img_b57e17dab9fea7314d4a9ed77dcb1b0b.png Eat healthily: In combination with regular exercise, a healthy diet can help to improve your overall health and prevent health conditions that may contribute to kidney damage, such as diabetes and heart disease. Reducing your intake of salt and processed foods can also contribute to your kidney health.

editor_meta_bo_img_e21eb3bdcd1660667cbc9210f2c6906a.png Monitor and control your blood sugar: It is estimated that around half of people who have diabetes are not aware they have it, and if left untreated, diabetes can lead to kidney damage. It is therefore important to check your blood sugar as part of your regular health check-ups and to do your best to control it.

editor_meta_bo_img_938e4ba61538986f6ebc3507111cb749.png Monitor and control your blood pressure: Similar to the case for diabetes, many patients with high blood pressure are also unaware of their condition. When untreated, high blood pressure, especially when associated with diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, or high cholesterol, can be particularly damaging to the kidneys. Make sure to check your blood pressure as part of your regular health check-ups and consult your doctor if your blood pressure is persistently elevated above the normal range.

editor_meta_bo_img_009ea30a2e4163039f3079bd4b2a0eec.png Stay hydrated: Adequate hydration is a key part of maintaining good kidney health. The kidneys need water to remove waste from your blood as urine, so make sure to drink up! The general recommendation is 8 cups (2 litres) daily, but the Institute of Medicine has found that men actually need about 13 cups (3 litres) per day and that women need about 9 cups (2.2 litres) per day.

editor_meta_bo_img_a38ae844014f368252cadd60be153459.png Quit smoking: Smoking has been proven to slow the flow of blood to the kidneys, and reduced blood flow can inhibit their function. It also increases the risk of developing kidney cancer by around 50%, so it is a habit you definitely want to kick!

editor_meta_bo_img_fc0ded52a0c8843baa6f8020b81b8b17.png Moderate your use of OTC drugs: Regular use of certain commonly-prescribed drugs like non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) or painkillers (ibuprofen, acetaminophen) can damage the kidneys. Make sure to follow dosage instructions given to you by your doctor or pharmacist and when in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask.

editor_meta_bo_img_629d6ef58c94e5a7187a95c2795c03ed.png Monitor your kidney function: It is important to check your kidney function as part of your regular health check-ups, especially if you have one of the high risks factors (diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, family history of kidney disease). Make sure to make your doctor aware of your risk, express any concerns you may have, and ask your doctor about getting a blood test for kidney issues.


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1 comment


thelicencee
on 06/07/2021

 Hello, 

Hopefully you will be able to offer me some help and advice with regards to my medical situation. 

After over 5 years of taking Fumaderm, an external urine check, as part of a required medical, showed an increased protein level and I was advised to request to see a kidney specialist. 

After a number of further urine and blood tests and a complete and thorough investigation of the medication I was taking. 

It was determined that I had suffered severe irreparable damage to my kidneys due to the unchecked/unmonitored prescription of Fumaderm over such a long period of time. 

It was determined that my kidney function was normal prior to the start of the Fumaderm treatment, and began to stabilise after the Fumaderm treatment ceased. 

The identified and recorded diagnosis was CKD caused by "unchecked/unmonitored prescription of Fumaderm over a recorded 5 year period of time. 

I am now in the position of having to have my kidney function checked on a regular basis as well as regular consultations with the kidney specialist, so that any further signs of deterioration can be detected as early as possible so that, if required,  dialysis treatment can be initiated at an early stage as well as regular checks to monitor if a kidney transplant is or will be required. 

I am very annoyed that knowing that one of the major side effects of Fumaderm was related to the kidney function that NO regular kidney function checks were instigated by the prescribing consultant, in fact NO kidney function checks were instigated during the whole time I was being prescribed Fumaderm. 

I would like some information regarding the lack of appropriate medical care during this period and also if I am entitled to compensation in relation to the irreversible and irreparable damage to my kidneys due to lack of and very poor medical care over this 5 year treatment period.

I thank you for your help and advice with regards to this concerning issue. 

Regards 

Paul

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