Heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes get a lot of attention, but you don’t hear enough about kidneys and how essential they are to good health. You have two kidneys – small, multi-purpose organs located in your lower back.
Important functions of the kidneys are to filter the bloodstream and to eliminate fluids and waste products not needed by the body. Another task is to maintain the balance of certain minerals called electrolytes in the body. The kidneys also have a role in controlling blood pressure and the production of white blood cells.
Not surprisingly, for most people, the kidneys function less well with age. Having two kidneys provides a back-up system that can help compensate. However, sometimes that extra reserve isn’t enough.
Who Is at Risk?
Kidney disease means that your kidneys are not working effectively. Chronic kidney disease is when this condition lasts more than three months.
Kidney disease often occurs with diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease. Family history of kidney failure can also be a factor. According to the U.S. Renal Data System, about 40 percent of people with chronic kidney disease also have diabetes, while 32 percent have high blood pressure and 40 percent have cardiovascular disease. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicate nearly one-third of adults ages 60 or older have chronic kidney disease.
Chronic kidney disease can lead to kidney failure. However, chronic kidney disease does not lead to end-stage kidney disease in most older adults. Treatment options for advanced kidney disease may include dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Chronic kidney disease can affect the body in various ways, including:
- Anemia (low number of red blood cells) resulting in weakness and fatigue
- Infections due to a weakened immune system
- Excess fluids in the body that can cause high blood pressure, swelling or shortness of breath
- Loss of protein in the urine
- Build-up of waste products in the body
- Imbalances of electrolytes (minerals that carry an electric charge), such as sodium, potassium, calcium and phosphorus
- Brittle bones
Initially, kidney disease may not show any symptoms. This is why it is important to have regular medical checkups that include blood and urine tests.
Keeping Kidneys Healthy
Kidneys benefit from the same strategies you often hear about for preventing heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommends the following actions:
- Eat healthy – Choose foods that are low in sodium and added sugars. If you have kidney disease, your physician may want you to consul a dietician or follow a special diet.
- Be active – Try to be active for 30 minutes most days of the weeks. Consult your physician prior to beginning any physical activity to determine the amount and type of exercise that is appropriate for you.
- Maintain a healthy weight – Nearly 71 percent of adults over age 20 are overweight or obese. If you need help losing those extra pounds, talk with your physician or ask for a referral to a dietician to set up a weight loss plan.
- Manage other chronic conditions – High blood pressure and diabetes can damage the kidneys, so you want to keep them under control. Kidney disease increases the risk of heart disease or stroke, so it is important to manage blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels.
- Don’t smoke – If you smoke, stop for your health’s sake. For help in quitting, call 1-800-QUITNOW or go to smokefree.gov.
- Take medications as prescribed – Follow your physician’s instructions regarding your medications. Ask for advice about any over-the-counter medications, vitamins or supplements. Be aware that certain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen can harm your kidneys.
ComForCare/At Your Side Home Care provides extra support at home, including personal care services, meal preparation and transportation, for older adults with kidney disease or other chronic health conditions. To learn how we can help you live your best life possible, call 800-886-4044.