Kidney disease affects around 37 million people in the U.S., or 15% of the adult population. However, most people who have it don’t even know it. In fact, the National Kidney Foundation estimates that only 10% of those with chronic kidney disease are diagnosed. Left unchecked, it can cause serious health problems.
As we enter National Kidney Month, it’s a good time to learn about what the condition is and ways to prevent it.
What is Kidney Disease?
People are born with two kidneys on either side of their spine. These organs act as filters, getting rid of waste and toxic substances, such as medications or chemicals, in the body. They also return essentials, like vitamins, glucose, hormones and amino acids, back to the bloodstream, maintaining a healthy balance of water and minerals.
Kidney disease affects how these organs function and diminishes their ability to cleanse the blood and filter out extra water. This, in turn, can cause issues like erratic blood pressure, anemia and a build up of wastes and fluids in the body. It can also lead to other health problems, including weak bones, nerve damage and malnutrition.
Kidney disease can be caused by a number of factors. Those with diabetes, high blood pressure and other chronic conditions, such as auto-immune disorders like lupus, are at a higher risk for it. Traumatic injuries with blood loss, long-term dehydration, birth defects and long-term use of certain medications can impact the kidneys as well.
If kidney disease goes undetected, the organs may stop working completely. As a result, dialysis is eventually required to help the kidneys function properly. While dialysis can’t cure the disease, it can prolong the life of the patient. If dialysis stops working, a kidney transplant is the next step.
What are the Signs of Kidney Disease?
Kidney disease progresses slowly over time. These organs are very adaptable and can often compensate when there’s a problem. However, as damage worsens, it slowly uncovers symptoms, such as:
- A change in urination, including pain and a shift to a darker color
- Swelling in the feet and ankles
- Nausea and vomiting
- A lack of appetite
- A general sense of fatigue and weakness
- Problems sleeping
- Persistent itching that won’t go away
- Muscle twitches or cramps
- Mental fogginess or trouble thinking
- Chest pains and / or shortness of breath
- High blood pressure that is difficult to control
Since many of these symptoms can also indicate other conditions, it’s important to speak to your doctor, or your loved one’s physician, if you have concerns.
Tips for Maintaining Kidney Health
If you or a loved one develops kidney disease, it’s critical to take steps to control the condition and limit the damage. Some ways to do that include:
- Be cautious about medications. Take all the prescribed medications recommended for lowering blood pressure and managing kidney disease. However, when it comes to over-the-counter medications, be cautious. Nonprescription pain relievers, like aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen can cause damage to the kidneys if not taken properly. Talk to a doctor about managing pain and which medications are safe.
- Maintain a healthy weight. If you or your loved one are overweight or obsese, your kidneys are going to have to work harder to function. It’s why losing even just a few pounds can go a long way in helping to improve blood pressure and kidney health. Aim to increase physical activity and encourage your loved ones to do the same.
Nutrition is also a key component to maintaining kidney health with a diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, lean meats and other heart-healthy options. If you or your loved one requires more support, talk to a doctor or nutritionist about diet strategies that can specifically help with kidney disease.
- Quit smoking. Cigarettes will harm the kidneys and make any existing damage worse. If it’s a struggle to quit smoking, talk to a healthcare provider about different options for medications to help you stop. There are also many support groups and even counseling that can help to manage cravings.
- Sleep well. Kidney function is actually regulated by the sleep-wake cycle. In fact, people who sleep less usually have faster kidney function decline. Healthy sleep habits are especially important for those with kidney disease. Aim for around seven to eight hours each night.
- Keep stress in check. Stress and uncontrolled reactions to stress can also lead to kidney damage. It’s why healthy coping techniques are essential. These will look different for everyone. For some, it might be solitude and reading a book. For others, it might be spending time with friends playing a game. Just make sure to have fun, relaxing activities scheduled into your week.
If your elderly loved one needs help managing day-to-day activities, contact your local FirstLight® Home Care today. Our experienced caregivers are trained to support and care for seniors and other at-risk adults with a range of diseases, wherever they call home.
* All information is provided for informational purposes only. If you are concerned about kidney disease, please contact your health care professional immediately.