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How To Prevent Kidney Disease

Diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes, has become so common that diabetic kidney disease (nephropathy) has leaped ahead of high blood pressure as the leading cause of kidney failure in much of the world.

Kidney failure is a serious matter: The kidneys’ job is to filter waste products and excess fluids from the blood circulating through our bodies. If the kidneys fail, survival depends on either dialysis (being hooked up to a machine to do the kidneys’ blood-filtering) or a kidney transplant.

High blood glucose levels can damage blood vessels all over the body, including the tiny blood vessels that do the kidneys’ filtering. When those tiny vessels are damaged, they can’t do the job correctly. High blood pressure can result and make the problem worse, damaging more blood vessels and speeding up the progression of kidney disease. Both kidneys are affected.

Though 20-40 percent of those with diabetes develop kidney disease, it can be slowed significantly if diagnosed early and treated.

Prescription for Kidney Health

Five principles should be followed by everyone with diabetes to help prevent and treat kidney problems:

  • Tight control of blood glucose levels (A1C less than 7 percent)

  • Tight control of blood pressure: aim for lower than 130/80

  • Control of lipids: LDL (“bad”) cholesterol should be less than 100 mg/dl, HDL (“good”) cholesterol should be above 50 mg/dl and triglycerides should be less than 150 mg/dl

  • No cigarette smoking

  • Blood pressure-lowering drugs, such as ACE inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), are effective in protecting the kidney from damage if you have signs of diabetic kidney disease

The Earlier You Know, the Better

There are no symptoms in the early stages of diabetic kidney disease. Symptoms of kidney failure—fatigue, nausea and fluid retention—usually don’t occur until the late stages of kidney disease because the kidney can still adequately filter the blood even after extensive damage.

Usually the first sign that the kidneys’ filtration system is damaged is an excess amount of protein in the urine, known as microalbuminuria. This is not just an early sign of kidney disease, but a well-established risk factor for cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack and stroke.

Two tests—one using urine and the other blood—must be performed annually for early detection. The urine sample is used to screen for microalbuminuria. The standard urine dipstick used in doctors’ offices does not measure this—a special machine is required instead.

The blood sample is used to measure the level of creatinine, a substance normally present in the blood, which increases if your kidneys are not functioning properly. The blood sample results are then plugged into a formula that estimates your kidneys’ filtering capacity. The most commonly used formula is called the MDRD equation.

One cannot overemphasize how important it is to measure your blood creatinine and to use the MDRD equation to estimate total kidney filtering. The creatinine value alone can be misleading, as it must be interpreted within the context of age and gender. Patients often have more advanced kidney disease than their blood creatinine value alone suggests.

At Miami Kidney Group our goal is to keep your kidneys healthy. If you have high blood pressure the dietary restriction of salt becomes very important. Eating a low salt diet will help control the blood pressure by requiring less medications and will also help reduce the retention of fluid. This retention of fluid can be frequently be seen by noticing swelling of the legs. You will see a significant reduction in the swelling and better control of the blood pressure as you reduce your salt intake. Remember most processed foods contain salt.

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