Your body is never resting. Around the clock, essential processes are taking place to keep your life-sustaining systems functioning properly.
Your kidneys are an important part of this impressive chemistry. In these fist-sized organs, millions of blood vessels act as filters to remove waste and excess fluids from your blood. The waste is then expelled as urine.
When your kidneys are damaged, these tiny filters start to fail. Vital proteins needed by your body can leak through the filters and are lost when you urinate. At the same time, waste is not filtered out properly and can build up in your blood. This condition is known as kidney disease or, in advanced stages, kidney failure.
Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure. Even controlled diabetes puts your kidneys at risk of disease or failure.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the No. 2 cause of kidney failure. And conversely, kidney disease over time can cause high blood pressure. It is a damaging spiral.
High blood pressure occurs in most people with diabetes. So if you have either of these conditions, or both, it's important to be tested for kidney problems.
Besides diabetes and high blood pressure, people with heart disease are more at risk of kidney damage. Genetics also seem to play a part. You're more likely to develop kidney disease if a close relative has had it.
Early-stage kidney disease usually has no signs or symptoms. You'll need to be tested to find whether your kidneys are functioning properly. Early treatment can stall or stop further loss of kidney function.
Kidney disease can happen at any age. African Americans, American Indians and Hispanics develop kidney disease at higher rates than Caucasians. Doctors aren't sure why. One possible link is that diabetes occurs more often in these population groups. High blood pressure does too.
If you fall into any one of these higher-risk groups, you might need to be screened for kidney disease.
The tests are simple:
- A urine test checks for a protein called albumin. This protein can seep into the urine when kidneys are damaged.
- A blood test known as an eGFR can calculate how much blood is being filtered per minute. This indicates how well your kidneys are functioning.
If tests reveal that you have kidney disease, your doctor will work with you on a plan of action. These steps may include:
- Keeping your blood sugar within healthy levels.
- Closely managing your blood pressure. High blood pressure can make kidney disease progress more quickly.
- In some people, limiting protein in the diet.
If left undetected or if caught late, kidney disease can progress to kidney failure. Treatment of chronic kidney failure requires dialysis - in which you are hooked up to a blood-filtering machine - or getting a kidney transplant.
Talk with your doctor if you're in a higher-risk group. He or she can tell you if you should be tested or how often testing should be done.
Created on 03/13/2008
Updated on 10/08/2014
- American Diabetes Association. Complications. Kidney disease (nephropathy).
- National Institutes of Health. Senior health. What is kidney disease?
- American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes — 2014. Diabetes Care. 2014;1:S14-S80.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. National Kidney Disease Education Program. At risk for kidney disease?