Nine Ways to Take Better Care During National Kidney Month

You may know that the kidneys’ primary function is to remove waste and excess fluid from the body, but did you know they serve many other essential purposes? March is National Kidney Month, dedicated to raising awareness of kidney disease. Approximately 37 million people in the United States are estimated to have chronic kidney disease (CKD). As many as nine out of 10 people are unaware that they have it. In 2020, Missouri ranked the third highest in terms of death rates related to kidney disease in the United States.

Much like other aspects of your health, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to preventing and treating kidney disease. It involves evaluating your disease type, environment and lifestyle. What works for someone else may not work for you and your body. It’s important to partner with your health care provider to create a wellness plan that fits your mobility needs, health status and dietary needs to optimize overall health and minimize the risk of chronic health conditions such as CKD. Keep reading to learn more about the importance of your kidneys and how to take care of them for improved overall health.

How Kidneys Keep You Healthy

Kidneys are fist-sized organs located at the bottom of your rib cage on both sides of the spine. Their main function is to filter waste products, excess water and other impurities from the blood. They filter about a half cup of blood every minute to maintain a healthy balance of water, salts and minerals, including sodium, calcium, phosphorus and potassium. The waste is stored in your bladder and later expelled through urine. Additionally, kidneys help activate Vitamin D for healthy bones, direct the production of red blood cells and regulate blood pressure. 

Without the correct balance in your system, nerves, muscles and other tissues may not work correctly. This can cause other health concerns such as nerve damage, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, damage to the central nervous system, decreased immune response, inflammation or anemia (low red blood cell count). Ongoing kidney damage will worsen, and the organs may eventually stop working altogether without treatment or prevention measures.

Risk Factors

Risk factors increase the chance of developing a specific disease. The existence of one or more factors does not mean you will get kidney disease, but keeping an eye out for the following may help you catch it early on and have a better chance of recovery:

  • Diabetes is the leading risk factor for kidney disease and the most common cause of kidney failure. High blood sugar causes damage to the kidneys and impairs the ability to filter waste and fluid from your blood.
  • The force of high blood pressure on the tiny blood vessels in your kidneys can cause damage.
  • Race and ethnicity also seem to play a factor. People who are African American, Hispanic or Latino, Native American or Asian American have a higher chance of developing kidney disease or failure. This may be due to the high prevalence of diabetes in these groups.
  • As we age, so do our kidneys. For those over the age of 60, kidney disease is more prevalent when compared to the rest of the general population. Additionally, researchers at Johns Hopkins University estimate that 50% of seniors over 75 have kidney disease. 

Symptoms of Kidney Disease

Signs and symptoms of chronic kidney disease may not be present in the early stages. It progresses slowly over time and often goes unnoticed until there is irreversible damage. Loss of kidney function can cause: 

  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Fatigue and weakness.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Urinating more or less.
  • Decreased mental sharpness.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Swelling of feet and ankles.
  • Dry, itchy skin.
  • High blood pressure that is difficult to control.
  • Shortness of breath due to fluid in the lungs.
  • Chest pain due to fluid around the lining of the heart.

It may be beneficial to make an appointment with your doctor if you have signs of kidney disease, as early detection is essential for preventing kidney failure. 

Build Your Path to Better Kidney Care

Treatment of kidney disease or failure involves slowing the progression of further damage and varies depending on the cause. Your doctor will work with you to develop a plan, but there are some tips to be proactive about your kidney health:

  • Stay active: CKD can affect your muscles and bones. Exercise can help manage some of the adverse effects of kidney disease, such as low energy, strength issues and weight loss.
  • Manage blood sugar: Your kidneys work harder to filter blood when the body’s cells can’t use the sugars present. Controlling blood sugar levels reduces the risk of damage.
  • Monitor blood pressure: High blood pressure can also cause kidney damage, primarily if it occurs with other health issues such as diabetes, heart disease or high cholesterol. 
  • Consume a healthy diet: Obesity increases the risk for other kidney-damaging conditions. Manage weight by eating more fresh ingredients naturally low in sodium such as fish, whole grains, blueberry, cauliflower and more. Click here to learn more about how obesity affects the body and local resources to help manage weight loss.
  • Drink plenty of fluids: Water helps clear the toxins from your kidneys as well as many other health benefits. Aim for at least one and a half to two liters per day, depending on your personal health and lifestyle.
  • Avoid smoking: Smoking damages blood vessels and leads to slower blood flow through the body. 
  • Follow instructions on over-the-counter medications: Taking too many pain relievers for an extended period could lead to eventual kidney damage.
  • Get enough sleep: Aim for seven to eight hours each night. This will help you meet your blood pressure and glucose goals and improve mental health.
  • Test kidney functions if you are high-risk: If you are at high risk of kidney damage or disease, it’s good to be proactive and have regular kidney function tests. One common test is the urine albumin-to-creatinine ratio, which estimates the amount of a type of protein (albumin) you excrete in your urine. Another test measures the glomerular filtration rate (GFR) to determine how well your kidneys remove the waste from your blood by measuring creatinine (waste build up) and calculating based on your race, age and gender.

Resources in Kansas City

Whether you live with a kidney condition or know someone that does, there are numerous ways you can get involved in the Kansas City community:

  • Show your support during the Kansas City Kidney Walk on Sunday, October 9, 2022. Location is currently to be determined, but keep an eye out for more details in the coming months. Kidney Walks allow the National Kidney Foundation to provide real-time assistance to those in need through research, patient services, professional education, public health education and community services.
  • Support groups allow people to share personal experiences and feelings and learn coping strategies or firsthand information about conditions or treatments. The American Association of Kidney Patients offers three support groups across the metro area, including Kansas City, Overland Park and Westwood, for anyone directly affected by kidney disease, dialysis, transplant patients and caregivers. 
  • Partner with your health care team to develop a wellness or treatment plan that fits your lifestyle to take a proactive approach to your health. 

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of kidney disease, you should reach out to your doctor right away or consider becoming a member at KC Primary Care. Each member of our concierge medical practice can participate in an annual wellness program based on each patient’s individual health needs and goals. We are here for all of your health needs every month of the year. Call us at 816-479-5222 or contact us here to learn more about our services.

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