5 Steps to Preventing Kidney Disease Before It Starts
You may have heard that if you have type 2 diabetes, you run an increased risk of chronic kidney disease (CKD). Here, we explain exactly what you need to know about preventing CKD, how your heart and kidneys are connected and the role of regular screenings. Read on to discover the simple steps you can make to take care of your kidneys and lower the risk for heart disease.
What Causes Kidney Failure?
To understand what causes kidney failure, it’s important to understand how healthy kidneys function and what purpose they serve.
The kidneys are amazing organs that work hard to filter all the blood in our bodies. Made up of thousands of tiny blood vessels, our kidneys act as a full-body filtration system that separates waste products from essential substances like protein and red blood cells in the body.
Kidney failure occurs when this filtration system breaks down and useful bodily substances, like protein, are unintentionally expelled. Protein is necessary for the structure, function and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs—and we need it to survive. When the filtering system is in the early stages of protein loss, it is called microalbuminuria. More extensive breakdown is known as macroalbuminuria.
Thankfully, you can test kidney function to find out about problems early—and make changes to prevent CKD with a simple screening.
How Are the Heart, Kidneys and Diabetes Connected?
Your kidneys are powerful filters that remove toxins from your blood through a complex network of arteries, veins and vessels—which are part of your cardiovascular system.
Type 2 diabetes can put a lot of stress on all these structures—both in your heart and in your kidneys. There’s an overlap between their risks and care. To stay healthy, it’s vital for you and your doctor to keep tabs on both.
What Is a UACR Screening?
Our bodies need protein to build muscle, repair tissue and fight infection. But it should be in the blood, not urine, where protein is lost if you have kidney damage.
People with a high amount of protein (albumin) in their urine have an increased risk of end-stage renal disease. In these cases, dialysis may be needed to survive. The urine albumin-to-creatinine ratio (UACR) is a simple test that shows whether albumin is present in the urine.
A UACR test can be an early indicator of kidney damage and should be part of your annual screenings if you have type 2 diabetes.
What are the Symptoms of CKD?
If you have had diabetes for many years, you could have kidney damage and not even know. High blood sugar (blood glucose), high blood pressure and diabetes-related complications contribute to kidney disease.
Unfortunately, recognizing early-stage kidney disease by checking for symptoms is usually not possible. This is because our kidneys will overwork themselves to make up for the early damage, and you may not have symptoms until nearly all function is gone. Any symptoms you may have wouldn’t make you think it’s kidney disease.
Does Everyone With Diabetes Develop Kidney Disease?
Many people ask if being diagnosed with diabetes automatically means they’ll struggle with kidney disease, and the answer is no. Factors that can influence kidney disease development include genetics, poor blood sugar management and high blood pressure.
It is vital to see your doctor regularly and maintain an ongoing conversation about your health. The better you’re able to keep your diabetes and blood pressure under control, the lower your chance of getting kidney disease.
When you schedule a UACR screening, your doctor will check your blood pressure, your urine protein ratios and talk with you about lifestyle prevention steps.
What can I do for Prevention?
1. Understand risk factors
When you’re living with diabetes, high levels of blood sugar (blood glucose) can cause your kidneys to work harder. Over time, kidney failure is more likely to occur. Not everyone with diabetes will develop kidney disease. Factors include genetics, blood sugar control, and blood pressure.
2. Act preemptively
If you develop kidney disease, you’ll have little to no symptoms until almost all function is gone. Have a discussion with your doctor about how to protect your heart and kidneys. Regular UACR screenings are key to early detection. When kidney disease is diagnosed early, several treatments may keep it from getting worse.
3. Keep blood sugar and blood pressure in your target range
Tight blood sugar management can reduce the risk of early-stage kidney failure by one-third and may reduce the risk of early stages of kidney disease to more severe kidney disease by half. Some studies have shown tight management can even reverse the early stages.
4. Talk to your doctor to see if a low-protein diet is right for you
Another treatment some doctors use with severe kidney disease is a low-protein diet. This can decrease protein loss in the urine and increase protein levels in the blood. Always talk with your health care team before changing your diet.
5. Get regular screenings
Ask your doctor for a UACR screening once a year if they haven’t scheduled one. This simple urine test is often overlooked but can mean the difference between staying healthy and avoiding dialysis. Your doctor can check your blood pressure, eGFR (estimated glomerular filtration rate), urine protein ratios and talk with you about lifestyle prevention steps.
If you have diabetes, there are simple, preventative steps you can take to reduce your risk of heart disease. Talk to your doctor about how to keep your heart healthy and about getting regular UACR screenings to help you understand the health of your kidneys.