March is “National Kidney Awareness Month” to educate
the public about kidney disease and promote early detection to prevent kidney
failure and its complications. Are your kidneys healthy?
Kidney disease is
common in many of us as we get older, but we may not even know that we have it.
It is the 9th leading cause of death in the U.S. and affects more than 26
million Americans – one in nine adults.
Our kidneys play many important roles, including
filtering wastes from the blood, regulating blood pressure and balancing fluid,
salt and acid in our body. They are vital in producing red-blood cells and
vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bones.
Who’s at risk? There are certain risk factors that
increase your likelihood of developing kidney disease, including:
• Diabetes mellitus.
• Hypertension (high blood pressure).
• Family history of kidney disease.
• Age 60 or older.
• Hispanic, African-American, Native American, or
Pacific Islander ancestry.
Diabetes mellitus and high blood pressure are the two
leading risk factors for kidney disease. If left uncontrolled, these conditions
can damage blood vessels in your kidneys and cause protein leakage into the
Symptoms of kidney disease include swelling in the legs
and ankles (edema), fatigue, nausea, unintentional weight loss, itchy skin,
muscle cramps, and confusion.
You can be screened for kidney disease by asking your
doctor to perform some blood and urine tests. These screenings include:
• Basic metabolic panel to assess your electrolytes and
• Urine protein ratio tests.
• Estimated kidney filtration rate to assess how well
your kidneys remove waste from the blood.
There are certain things you can do to protect your
kidneys, beginning with getting your hypertension and diabetes mellitus under
good control. Avoiding certain painkillers such as ibuprofen and naproxen – or
products containing these medications – will also help with prevention.
However, if these painkillers are necessary, then try to limit their use to
Kidney health is vital to your overall health. With a
few simple screenings and precautions, you can ensure your kidneys are working
to the best of their ability!
Dr. Hong-Phuc Tran
is a board-certified geriatrician with the highly regarded UCLA Geriatrics
Program in Santa Monica and Westwood. For more information, call 310.319.4371 or visit www.uclahealth.org.
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