Your kidneys play a very important part in your body. They are the filtering system of the body. They filter your blood through tiny blood vessels called the glomeruli. In the process, they remove waste products, excess salts and water out of the body through peeing. The kidneys also play other important roles in the body like controlling your blood pressure and producing some important hormones.
If not well taking care of, kidneys can be damaged by a number of conditions. When this happens, the filtering system breaks down and the kidneys lose their ability to filter your blood. Waste products are not removed and pile up in the body.
If not well controlled, diabetes can damage your kidneys. It is in fact common as about 25% of people with diabetes develop kidney disease at some point. About half of kidney failure cases are caused by diabetes.
Diabetes kidney disease is also referred to as diabetic nephropathy and is viewed as one of the serious complications of diabetes.
How does diabetic kidney disease happen?
Diabetic nephropathy is caused by constantly elevated blood sugar levels. The blood sugar damages the blood vessels (glomeruli) used by the kidneys to filters your blood. High blood sugar levels make the kidneys to work under a lot of pressure filtering blood. With this extra work, they end up not coping and hence unable to filter waste products well.
The damage usually happens slowly and if not managed well can progress to kidney failure (complete shutdown of the kidneys). Once your kidneys are damaged, they cannot be fixed. When this happens, you will need either dialysis or kidney transplant as your body cannot function with too much waste products in the body. However, early treatment may slow down or prevent progression of the disease.
Will every person with diabetes get diabetic kidney disease?
No, not everyone with diabetes will get kidney disease. Blood sugar control is the single most important factor in determining whether one gets diabetic neuropathy or not. However, other factors may also determine the development of kidney disease. These factors include genetics and hypertension. If your diabetes and blood pressure are under control, your chances of getting kidney disease are lowered.
How does diabetic kidney disease feel like?
People with diabetic nephropathy often times do not have any symptoms early on. This is because your kidneys will initially work hard to cope with the failing blood vessels. Symptoms start to show up when more than half of the kidney function is already lost. For this reason, your doctor will rely on urine and blood tests to diagnose kidney disease.
In the later stages, the following symptoms may occur:
Increased need to urinate
Swelling of the hands, the lower limbs and the eyes (puffy eyes)
Shortness of breath
Altered mental state e.g. confusion
Worsening of blood pressure
What increases your risks of getting diabetic kidney disease?
There are many factors that may put you at a greater risk of getting diabetic nephropathy. The factors are as follows:
- Constantly elevated blood sugar levels
- Family history of kidney disease
- Having diabetes for a long time
- Certain ethnic groups e.g. African American, Mexican
- Being overweight or obese
- Having other diabetes complications e.g. nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy) or eye damage (diabetic retinopathy)
- Heart disease
- Sedentary lifestyle (lack of exercise)
How do I prevent diabetic kidney disease?
Finding out that you have some sort of kidney damage early on is important as it can help you take the right steps to prevent further damage. Diabetic kidney disease is usually a slow process. It does not happen fast. It may take years to happen or progress from one stage to another.
To prevent diabetic kidney damage from occurring or from getting worse, you need to make sure that you do the following:
Watch your Blood sugar
Keeping you blood sugar levels under control can help prevent many complications including diabetic nephropathy. Ensure that your blood sugar levels are at the acceptable ranges at all times. Always have a glucose meter at home to do home sugar tests. Also, visit your doctor at recommended times to test your HbA1c. The HbA1c will tell you whether your blood sugar levels were controlled or not in the past 3 months. The higher the HbA1c, the poorer the control of your blood sugar levels for the past 3 months. All diabetic patients should aim for HbA1c of <7%.
Watch your Blood Pressure
Often time’s people with diabetes are more concerned with managing their blood sugar levels but forget that managing blood pressure is equally important in protecting kidneys from damage. Constantly high blood pressure is one of the important causes of kidney damage. Therefore, having both uncontrolled diabetes and hypertension puts you at a greater risk of having kidney problems in the long run.
High blood pressure does not only put you at risk of kidney damage but also at a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases like heart attack and stroke. A normal blood pressure should be below 140/90. If it is higher than that, you need to consult your doctor for further management. Mild hypertension may be managed by lifestyle modification (diet watch, weight loss, exercise, stop smoking, reduce alcohol intake). However, if these measures do not reduce the blood pressure, your doctor will recommend medication.
Watch your cholesterol
A combination of high cholesterol and diabetes is not good for your heart, vessels and kidneys. You are more likely to get kidney failure, heart disease and stroke if you have both of these. High cholesterol levels may also worsen diabetic related kidney damage.
Watch your diet
Diet is a very important factor in preventing diabetic nephropathy. Making the right food choices helps maintain your blood sugar at desirable levels. Choose meals that are high in fiber and more vegetables and fruits. Low- protein meals also seem to reduce the workload of the kidneys and are usually advised when you already have some level of kidney damage. Always talk to your doctor before starting a low protein diet.
Salt intake is also beneficial in reducing blood pressure. Opt for food with less sodium levels.
Watch your weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is actually good for your kidneys, blood sugar and blood pressure. Lose weight today and give your kidneys a chance. Even the smallest weight loss is of great health benefits.
Exercise has a lot of benefits to your body. It helps you lose weight, reduce cholesterol and helps control blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least 5 days in a week.
Smoking is an important and independent risk factor for kidney damage. It slows down blood flow to the kidneys and other important organs in the body. When combined with uncontrolled diabetes, smoking can damage your kidneys faster.
Get enough sleep
Aim for at least 8 hours of sleep per night.
Follow your doctor’s advice
It is very important to follow your doctor’s treatment plan. There are so many suggestions in the internet nowadays. Before trying out anything suggested in the internet, discuss with your doctor to ascertain if it is good for you.
Will diabetic kidney disease worsen over time?
If not managed well, kidney disease can get worse over time. Taking the right precautions will prevent any further kidney damage.
Progression of kidney disease more often result in complete shutdown of the kidneys. This is called end stage kidney failure. When your kidneys are not able to work, waste products pile up and become toxic to the body. A person with end stage kidney failure will need kidney transplant or dialysis now and then.
Diabetes does not have to end up with complications. Taking the right steps to manage your diabetes well will not only prevent diabetic kidney disease, but other complications as well, like eye damage, nerve damage and heart disease.
Take the right steps today to protect your kidneys for the future.
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