Chronic kidney disease: Are you at risk?

Posted on 9 May 2018

Your kidneys are capable of compensating for serious losses in function – but this means you might not notice the effects of kidney damage until it is too late.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) affects about 15% of the population, according to the National Kidney Foundation of SA. From 1999 to 2006, CKD-related deaths rose 67%.

Yet up to 80% of all chronic kidney failure and related cardiovascular deaths are preventable, says Dr Fikile Tsela, a nephrologist at Mediclinic Heart Hospital.

What is CKD?

CKD is defined as abnormalities of kidney structure or function that are present for more than three months, irrespective of the cause. This leads to the gradual loss of kidney function.

How can you protect your kidneys?

First, move. Exercise improves circulation and keeps your weight under control. Then, sleep: the sleep-wake cycle coordinates your kidneys’ workload.

What signs should you look out for?

Symptoms include nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, irregular sleep patterns, muscle cramps, swollen feet or ankles, persistent itching and a shortness of breath, caused by a build-up of fluid in the body.

Hypertension is linked to the progression of CKD, says Dr Tsela. Your blood pressure will usually rise as your kidney function declines, while consistently high blood pressure can cause kidney disease to worsen.

Can CKD be prevented?

Annual check-ups for high-risk patients – such as those with diabetes or hypertension – and one every three years for those with a lower risk, are recommended.

A quick urine test can pick up abnormalities in kidney function. A serum creatinine blood test can estimate glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which determines your kidney function. Doctors may recommend a renal ultrasound in certain patients, such as those with a family history of polycystic kidney disease.

Did you know: The sleep-wake cycle helps coordinate your kidneys’ workload.

What does treatment involve?

In most cases, CKD has no cure, which is why early detection and preventative measures are essential. After you have been diagnosed with CKD, your doctor will help you slow the progression of the disease by managing pre-existing conditions and controlling your blood pressure. He or she will also suggest that you stop smoking, lose weight and stick to strict salt limits in your diet, says Dr Tsela.

Medications that treat high blood pressure, cholesterol and anaemia will also help to reduce complications. The final stage of kidney disease is known as end-stage renal disease. In this severe case, your doctor may suggest that you undergo dialysis treatment, or recommend that you have kidney transplantation surgery. These can reduce your risk of dying from the disease.

Are there any known risk factors?

Chronic kidney disease is caused by the build-up of unhealthy lifestyle habits. To reduce your risk of damaging your kidneys, watch your intake of:

1. Over-the-counter painkillers.
2. Salt. Use herbs and spices instead.
3. Sugar, which increases your risk of diabetes and obesity.
4. Processed foods that are rich in salt and phosphorous. 5. Water. Staying hydrated will help your kidneys wash toxins from the body.
6. Red meat generates acids in the body. Balance your protein intake with plenty of fruit and fresh vegetables.
7. Nicotine. Harmful chemicals from smoking are removed by the kidneys and can damage them.
8. Alcohol. Drinking too much can double your risk of CKD.

Published in Expertise

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