Caring for your kidneys
Posted on 1 March 2022
Chronic kidney disease (CKD), a gradual loss of renal function that happens over three months or more, can potentially lead to kidney failure. But with appropriate treatment and preventative measures, the disease can be managed.
When your kidneys are structurally and functionally impaired, they can’t filter waste and excess fluids from the blood as efficiently as they should, which results in chronic kidney disease (CKD) and leads to a range of potential complications.
The damage is generally already significant once CKD symptoms appear, says Dr Riaan Flooks, a specialist physician and nephrologist at Mediclinic Bloemfontein. “CKD is usually asymptomatic at the onset of the disease so that when the symptoms do occur, it means renal deterioration is quite advanced.”
Symptoms of CKD
However, Dr Flooks says, look out for these possible red flags:
- Elevated blood pressure (hypertension).
- Swelling of the ankles and lower legs.
- Progressive fatigue and weakness.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Loss of appetite.
- Chest pain and shortness of breath.
People living with uncontrolled diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, or those with a family history of CKD, are most at risk. Other risk factors include being over age 60, substance abuse, and acute kidney injury. The risk of CKD has also been shown to be greater in people of African descent.
How the disease develops
CKD develops in five stages as kidney function worsens. “The different disease processes that affect the kidneys have different ways of causing injury to the kidneys,” explains Dr Flooks. “But the end result is nephron (kidney cell) loss – damage to the kidney structure that can eventually result in deteriorating renal function.” This can ultimately lead to Stage 5 CKD, previously referred to as end-stage renal failure.
While CKD is generally irreversible, Stage 5 CKD can be kept in check with the right monitoring and treatment.
Mediclinic Renal Services is a relatively new service, with clinics situated in the heart of local communities throughout South Africa. As a product of an innovative partnership between Mediclinic SA and BGM Renal Care, an established and recognised renal care facility, these standalone clinics offer a new standard of value-based kidney care.
Monitoring & treatment
Healthcare providers always aim to slow the progression of renal disease through the following methods, says Dr Flooks:
- Monitoring increased protein excretion in the urine and treating it with medication and dietary measures.
- Controlling blood pressure.
- Restricting salt intake.
- Controlling uric acid levels.
- Avoiding the use of nephrotoxins (a drug, chemical or toxic agent that can inhibit, damage or destroy the cells and/or tissues of the kidneys).
- Controlling elevated phosphate levels in the blood.
Patients facing Stage 5 CKD will need to either undergo renal replacement therapy through dialysis (a treatment that purifies the blood) or have a kidney transplant. “Kidney transplantation is the treatment of choice for many people with end-stage kidney disease,” explains Dr Flooks. “While the surgery carries a risk of complications, a successful kidney transplant can improve your quality of life, eliminate the need for dialysis and reduce your risk of dying.”
While CKD diagnosis often only happens once the disease has progressed, people living with diabetes mellitus or hypertension – the leading causes of renal failure – should have regular blood or urine tests to screen for CKD. “You can protect your kidneys by preventing or managing those health conditions that cause kidney damage,” explains Dr Flooks. General advice for preventing kidney disease includes:
- Choosing foods that are healthy for your heart and your entire body, such as fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.
- Cutting back on salt and added sugars.
- Exercising regularly and aim for a healthy weight.
- Limiting alcohol intake
- Not smoking.
- Getting enough sleep.
While kidney disease cannot be reversed, it can be managed. The experts at Mediclinic Renal Services clinics are on standby to assist those suffering from the effects of chronic kidney disease, with world-class dialysis equipment and a wealth of experience in monitoring and managing this complex condition. Find a clinic near you at Mediclinic.co.za