Did you know that more than 26 million Americans  have been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, and many of them had no idea they had it?  According to a new report published in the March issue of the American Journal of Kidney Diseases, (the official journal of the National Kidney Foundation), persons who have kidney disease have a limited understanding of symptoms, the course of kidney disease and risk factors –  diabetes and hypertension.  This disease can be silent, with few symptoms.   All too often, we do not realize the importance of the organs that basically keep our bodies healthy.  Many do not understand that the kidneys:

  • Remove waste from the body;
  • Remove drugs from the body;
  • Balance fluids in the body;
  • Release hormones that regulate blood pressure;
  • Produce an active form of Vitamin D, which promotes healthy, strong bones;
  • Control production of blood cells.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee,  surveyed 401 people with kidney disease attending a nephrology clinic.  More than three-fourths of participants had stage 3 chronic kidney disease or above.  While 94% of patients surveyed knew they had a kidney “problem,” more than 30% were unaware they had a serious, potentially life-threatening disease.  All of the patients surveyed were under the care of a nephrologist ( kidney specialist).  Also, those patients taking part in the 34-question survey showed that 78% of them did not realize that the disease may progress with no symptoms.  More than 34% were unaware that they were at an increased risk for heart disease, and 32% did not know that the kidneys make urine.  This study highlights the need for providers to better communicate with their patients, the seriousness of the disease.  Persons at risk – those with high blood pressure, diabetes or a family history of kidney disease, should get their kidney function checked regularly.

Physicians should stress the importance of the patient taking action to prevent the disease from worsening.  Patients should get involved in their own care, by avoiding medications, such as overuse of NSAIDS and over-the-counter pain medications that are toxic to the kidneys, keeping their blood pressure under control, and understanding the risk factor of diabetes.  They should talk to their physician about diabetes and high blood pressure, and know how to keep their kidneys healthy.  There are many steps that persons can take to save their health.  Choosing a healthier diet – one with a moderate amount of protein, fluids (water), and a reduction of salt will be helpful.  Cranberry juice is also beneficial for urinary tract infections and cleaning out the kidneys.  Exercise is also recommended – patients should have a goal of two and one-half hours per week of physical activity.

At one time or another, many of us have been curious about using herbal supplements for certain ailments.  Use of herbal supplements may be unsafe for chronic kidney disease patients, since their body is not able to clear waste products the same as those who do not have kidney disease.  Very few herbs have been studied in CKD patients.  While they may be safe for healthy individuals, they may not be for someone who has CKD;  in fact, they could be dangerous.  The exact contents of these products are unknown because the government does not regulate these supplements.  Also, there are no requirements for testing, so the safety, purity, and effectiveness of supplements are also unknown.  In addition, they may be contaminated with toxic, heavy metals, such as lead or mercury, and minerals that are harmful to CKD patients, like potassium.

A healthy habit for all of us is to drink more water, and fewer soft drinks.  Many drinks that contain caffeine actually do not hydrate us, but just the opposite. Carbonated drinks (especially dark ones) should be limited to one every 2-3 days.  Choose water or lemonade instead. 

March is National Kidney Month; the National Kidney Foundation will be offering free screenings for those at risk throughout the country.  This program is called the Kidney Early Evaluation Program (KEEP).    And remember, have regular checkups, expecially if you have any health issues.  Stay in touch with your doctor.