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Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

How to Address Kidney Disease

Do kidney problems run in families? My mother died from kidney failure 10 years ago at age 74 but did not know she had a kidney problem until it was too late.

Anyone who has a family history of kidney disease, has high blood pressure or diabetes is at increased risk of kidney disease and needs to have their kidneys tested.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, around 37 million U.S. adults have chronic kidney disease (when the kidneys do not properly clean toxins and wastes from the blood). Millions more are at risk of developing it, yet most people do not realize their risk. This is because kidney disease develops very slowly over many years before any symptoms arise. Left untreated, the disease can eventually require people to spend hours hooked up to a dialysis machine or require a kidney transplant. Even mild kidney problems can double a person's risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as cause anemia and bone disease.

Kidney disease has become widespread today because of the rise of obesity, type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure. All of these can strain the kidneys.

Another factor is the increasing number of people who take multiple medications, which can overtax the organs. People over age 60 are especially vulnerable both because they tend to take more medications and because kidney function normally declines somewhat with age.

Get Tested

Because kidney disease has no early symptoms, the only way to catch it before it advances is to have a simple blood and urine test done by your doctor. Anyone who has diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, a family history of kidney disease or is age 60 or older needs to get tested. African, Hispanic, Asian and Indian Americans along with Pacific Islanders are also at increased risk.

If you are diagnosed with kidney disease you need to know that there is no cure. However, there are steps you can take to help contain the damage.

Control your blood pressure: If you have high blood pressure, get it under 130/80. If you need medication to do it, ACE inhibitors and ARBs are good choices because of their proven ability to protect the kidneys.

Control your diabetes: If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar as close to normal as possible.

Change your diet: This usually means reducing the amount of protein and phosphorus you eat and cutting back on sodium and possibly potassium. Your doctor can help you determine an appropriate eating plan. You may also want to talk to a dietitian.

Watch your meds: Dozens of commonly used drugs can damage the kidneys, especially when taken in high doses over long periods – most notably NSAIDs, like ibuprofen and naproxen. Herbal supplements can also be very dangerous. Talk to your doctor about all the prescription, over the counter and herbal products you take to identify potential problems and find alternatives.

Exercise and lose weight: If you are overweight and inactive, start an aerobic fitness routine (walk, swim, cycle, etc.) that gets your heart pumping. This will help lower blood pressure, control diabetes and help you lose excess weight, all of which will help your kidneys.

Quit smoking: If you smoke, quit. Heart disease becomes a much greater risk to the kidneys if you smoke. Smoking also doubles the rate of progression to end-stage renal failure.

Limit alcohol intake: Drinking too much alcohol can worsen kidney disease. Talk to your doctor to see if it is safe for you to drink. If so, limit yourself to no more than one drink per day.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published March 20, 2020
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