What is kidney disease?

Your kidneys keep you healthy by filtering waste and extra water from your blood, which then leave the body in urine. Kidney disease results from damage, over time, to the tiny structures inside the kidneys that filter the blood. When the kidneys are damaged, they slowly stop doing their job, and waste builds up in the blood — harming the body.

If kidney disease is not treated, it can lead to kidney failure. This means the kidneys stop working. Once the kidneys fail, a person must either begin dialysis or get a kidney transplant.

The two main causes of kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure. About 7 out of 10 people with kidney failure have one or both of these conditions. But the good news is that managing these conditions can help reduce stress on your kidneys. Keeping your blood sugar and blood pressure under control may help your kidneys stay healthy.

Since kidney disease runs in families, you should be checked if you have a mother, father, sister, or brother with kidney failure. Even if only one person in the family has kidney failure, all blood relatives should be tested for kidney disease, because with early treatment, it can be slowed — and dialysis or a transplant could be avoided.

Kidney disease often has no symptoms until just before the kidneys fail. Testing is the only way to know if you have it, so don’t wait for symptoms to appear before talking to your doctor about getting tested. Tests include a blood test to check your filtration rate — which tells the doctor how well your kidneys are filtering — and a urine test to check for albumin, a protein that can pass into the urine when the kidneys are damaged.

If tests show you have kidney disease, you can take steps to protect your kidneys from further damage. Taking certain medications, controlling your blood sugar, and keeping your blood pressure below 130/8o may help delay or prevent kidney failure. That means eating healthy and cutting back on salt. It also means being active and taking supplements or medicines as prescribed by your doctor.

For more information or to make an appointment with a UT Erlanger Academic Urologist, call 423-778-2564.