March is National Kidney Month, a time when communities across the country raise awareness about kidney disease. This year, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) is focusing is on taking charge of our health and the many factors that go into managing kidney disease.
You are more likely to develop kidney disease if you have:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- A family history of kidney failure
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a serious, progressive condition affecting 37 million people across the U.S., and can put you at risk for serious health complications, including kidney failure. During your next medical visit, you may want to ask your health care provider about your kidney health. Early kidney disease may not have any symptoms, so getting tested may be the only way to know your kidneys are healthy. If you have diabetes, you should get tested every year. If you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or a family history of kidney failure, talk with your health care provider about how often you should get tested. The sooner you know you have kidney disease, the sooner you can get treatment to help protect your kidneys.Your health care provider will help decide how often you should be tested.
To check for kidney disease, health care providers use two tests:
The first test is called a GFR blood test. GFR stands for glomerular filtration rate, and it checks how well your kidneys are filtering your blood. The results of the test mean the following:
- A GFR of 60 or more is in the normal range. Ask your health care provider when your GFR should be checked again.
- A GFR of less than 60 may mean you have kidney disease. Your doctor will work with you to keep your kidney health at this level.
- A GFR of 15 or less is called kidney failure. Most people below this level need dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Talk with your health care provider about your treatment options. You can't raise your GFR, but you can try to keep it from going lower
The second test uses a urine sample to check for albumin. Albumin is a protein that can pass into the urine when the kidneys are damaged. A healthy kidney doesn't let albumin pass into the urine. A damaged kidney lets some albumin pass into the urine. The less albumin in your urine, the better. Having albumin in the urine is called albuminuria. A health care provider can check for albumin in your urine in two ways:
- Dipstick test for albumin. A provider uses a urine sample to look for albumin. For the test, a provider places a strip of chemically treated paper called a dipstick, into the urine. The dipstick changes color if albumin is present in the urine.
- Urine albumin-to-creatinine ratio (UACR). This test measures and compares the amount of albumin with the amount of creatinine in your urine sample. Providers use your UACR to estimate how much albumin would pass into your urine over 24 hours. A urine albumin result of 30 mg/g or less is normal; a result of more than 30 mg/g may be a sign of kidney disease.
If you have albumin in your urine, your provider may want you to repeat the urine test one or two more times to confirm the results. If you have kidney disease, measuring the albumin in your urine helps your provider know which treatment is best for you. A urine albumin level that stays the same or goes down may mean that treatments are working.
Your health care provider will work with you to manage your kidney disease. Adopting a healthy lifestyle is key to managing and slowing progression of CKD and its complications. We suggest following these healthy lifestyle tips to take charge of your kidney health:
Meet regularly with your health care team. Staying connected with your doctor, whether in-person or using telehealth via phone or computer, can help you maintain your kidney health. Key questions to ask your provider regarding your kidney health include:
- What is my glomerular filtration rate (GFR)?
- What is my urine albumin result?
- What is my blood pressure?
- What is my blood glucose (for people with diabetes)?
- How often should I get my kidneys checked?
- What happens if I have kidney disease?
Manage blood pressure and monitor blood glucose levels. Work with your health care team to develop a plan to meet your blood pressure goals and check your blood glucose level regularly if you have diabetes.
Take medicine as prescribed and avoid NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen. Your pharmacist and doctor need to know about all the medicines you take.
Reduce stress and make physical activity part of your routine. Consider healthy stress-reducing activities and get at least 30 minutes or more of physical activity each day.
Make time for sleep. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
Quit smoking. If you smoke, take steps to quit. If you need help quitting smoking, Summit offers free smoking cessation classes. Call 865-212-2281 for more information.
Aim for a healthy weight. Create a healthy meal plan and work with your doctor to develop a weight-loss plan that works for you.
It may seem difficult to tackle all of these changes at once, but gradually making small changes can go a long way to keeping your kidneys and you healthier for longer.