March is National Kidney Month, and March 10th is World Kidney Day. The goal of World Kidney Day is to bring awareness to Americans, both adult and children, who might not be aware of the risk factors for kidney disease. Many organizations and individuals are working to spread the word about kidney health, such as the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases aims to share information and raise awareness of diabetes and its impact on kidney health. The National Kidney Foundation is raising awareness by asking everyone to take five healthy steps for their kidneys.
With that in mind, we asked our Nurse Coaches and case managers what were the five most common questions our members had about kidney function, kidney health or kidney disease.
Q1: I feel well, how do I know that my kidneys are not working well?
There are several tests to determine your kidney function. These include a blood test for Creatinine and a urine test to check for protein. The Creatinine value can be used to determine eGFR. This can help predetermine the health of the kidneys when you do not have any symptoms. You should have a blood test at least once per year. By monitoring your numbers closely you will be aware of your kidney status and what lifestyle changes you need to make to keep your kidneys healthy.
Q2: What is eGFR?
eGFR stands for glomerular filtration rate. It is a number that estimates how well your kidneys function. It describes how much blood is filtered through your kidneys per minute. It is calculated from the results of your blood creatinine test, your age, race, gender, and other factors.
Q3: My Dr. has not told me I have a problem with my kidneys. Why should I get tested?
Your Doctor takes many things into consideration when measuring your kidney function including checking your overall health and evaluating your lab work. Studies show that people who have Diabetes or Hypertension are at risk for developing CKD. Other conditions include smoking, heart disease, high Cholesterol, being overweight, and the general aging process. Declining kidney function is often a problem without noticeable symptoms. In many situations significant worsening can go undetected. Most people don’t even feel ill until they are in the late stages. Early testing allows for early intervention in order to delay or prevent kidney disease.
Q4: What can I do to improve or maintain kidney function?
To maintain or improve your kidney function you must increase your physical activity, eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, control your blood sugar, your blood pressure and your cholesterol levels. Take your medications as prescribed, and see your physician on a regular basis. Do not take NSAIDS, smoke, or drink diet soda; eat well balanced meals; stay well hydrated with water; exercise; keep any other conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure under good control.
Q5: If I do all the things you recommend, will my kidney function improve?
Depending on your other health conditions (hypertension, diabetes etc.), your kidney function may not improve, but it may not deteriorate further either. If you make some lifestyle changes, you will be healthier. Exercise will increase blood flow to your kidneys, thus increasing the amount of waste removed from your blood by your kidneys. A healthy diet and increased activity will improve your health overall and may improve kidney function. Staying away from taking NSAIDs – Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (Advil, Ibuprofen, Aleve, also called naproxen); along with stopping smoking and avoiding diet sodas will definitely be of benefit to your kidneys. It is not too late to try and improve your kidney function.
BONUS QUESTION: What happens if I have kidney disease?
If you are diagnosed with kidney disease here are some things you can do:
- Get to know your numbers. The two important ones to watch are eGFR and albumin;
- Get your blood pressure checked. Blood pressure checks are important since high blood pressure can damage the kidneys. Know what numbers are considered acceptable for your condition and work with your health care professionals to take steps that will keep you in that range;
- If you are a smoker, stop smoking;
- Find opportunities to increase exercise;
- Eat healthy and do not drink diet soda;
- Maintain a healthy weight;
- Do not use NSAIDS;
- Control your blood sugar;
- See a Kidney Specialist (Nephrologist) to discuss your specific situation.
To find more information about kidney disease, visitNational Kidney Foundation.