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It’s National Diabetes Month! Learn Why Managing Your Diabetes is Important for Your Kidney Health

November is National Diabetes Month, a perfect time to remind people living with diabetes about their increased risk for developing kidney disease. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, causing nearly 40 percent of all cases. About 30 percent of patients with type 1 diabetes and 10 to 40 percent of those with type 2 diabetes will eventually suffer from kidney failure. Managing your diabetes can help protect your kidneys and prevent kidney disease or kidney failure.

About Diabetes

There are several different types of diabetes, but the two most common are type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed when your body is no longer able to produce insulin. Between 5-10 percent of the people who have diabetes have this type.

Type 2 diabetes is diagnosed when the body is not able to use the insulin that is produced. More than 90 percent of the people who have diabetes have type 2 diabetes.

About Kidney Disease

Kidneys are an essential part of your body. Healthy kidneys clean your blood by removing excess fluid, minerals, and waste. They also help control blood pressure, keep bones healthy, and produce red blood cells.

If your kidneys become damaged, they do not work properly. This damage is called chronic kidney disease. In the early stages, there may be no symptoms. The loss of kidney function usually takes months or years to occur. The final stage of chronic kidney disease is called end-stage renal disease (ESRD), which is permanent kidney failure. At this point, the kidneys are no longer able to remove excess waste from the blood and the patient needs dialysis or a kidney transplant in order to survive.

The Link Between Diabetes and Kidney Disease

Diabetes is a group of diseases characterized by high blood glucose levels that result from defects in the body's ability to produce and/or use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose in your blood. High blood glucose levels can damage the tiny blood vessels in your kidneys called glomeruli. When the glomeruli are damaged, they do not filter your blood as well, which can lead to kidney disease. Once the kidneys are damaged in this way, they cannot be fixed, which can eventually lead to kidney failure.

Get Tested

Your doctor can check your blood glucose with a simple blood test, and your kidneys with simple blood and urine tests.

A1C. Your doctor might suggest a hemoglobin A1C test, or “A1C” for short. This is a blood test that tells how your blood glucose has been over the last 2 or 3 months. If you already have diabetes, your doctor can use this test to see how well you are managing your diabetes. If you haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes, this test can check to see if you are at risk. Ask your doctor what your A1C result should be. The goal for most people with diabetes is less than 7%.

eGFR. The estimated glomerular filtration rate, or “eGFR,” is a blood test to see how well your kidneys are working. Your doctor will measure your eGFR by using your creatinine (a waste product from your muscles) level, your age, your sex and your race. Talk with your doctor to find out if this test is right for you.
Urine Test. If your kidneys are damaged, they may leak protein into your urine. Your doctor may suggest a urine test to check for protein. Protein in your urine can be an early sign of kidney disease.  People with diabetes should have a urine test performed at least one time each year.

Urine Test. If your kidneys are damaged, they may leak protein into your urine. Your doctor may suggest a urine test to check for protein. Protein in your urine can be an early sign of kidney disease.  People with diabetes should have a urine test performed at least one time each year.

Reduce Your Risk for Kidney Disease...

While medication and blood glucose monitoring play a role in successfully managing your diabetes, one of the major keys to staying healthy with both types of diabetes is to make healthy lifestyle choices.

The American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) has developed seven self-care behaviors that serve as the framework for successfully managing and delaying diabetes-related complications such as kidney disease. These behaviors are: Healthy Eating, Being Active, Monitoring, Taking Medication, Problem Solving, Reducing Risks and Healthy Coping.

Healthcare providers – often nurses, dietitians, pharmacists and nurse practitioners – who specialize in helping people with diabetes learn how to live a healthy life with their disease are called diabetes educators. Diabetes education programs are often affiliated with your local hospitals, clinics and physician practices. They may also be offered at your local pharmacy. Diabetes education is a covered Medicare benefit and usually covered by private insurance. (If you’re a healthcare provider and interested in learning more about this benefit, please check out our free course on this topic.)

Control your blood glucose:

Keeping your blood sugar in a healthy range can help protect your kidneys and prevent or slow diabetic kidney disease. See AADE’s seven self-care behaviors under “Resources” below to help you manage your diabetes.

Control your blood pressure:

High blood pressure can also harm your kidneys. In fact, high blood pressure is the #2 cause of kidney failure.  Ask your doctor how often you should have your blood pressure checked. If your blood pressure is elevated, ask your doctor what you can do to lower it.

Control your cholesterol:

Having high cholesterol, especially if you have diabetes, puts you more at risk for kidney disease, heart disease and stroke.  It can also cause diabetic kidney disease to get worse faster. Your total cholesterol should be less than 200, with your HDL being more than 40 and your LDL being less than 100. Ask your doctor about getting your cholesterol checked.

Avoid tobacco:

Using tobacco (smoking or chewing) puts you more at risk for kidney disease and many other health problems. If you already have kidney disease, using tobacco can make it get worse faster. Ask your doctor for resources on how to quit.

Be physically active:

Exercise can help your body use insulin better and it makes it easier to keep your blood sugar in check. Staying active also helps control your blood pressure and cholesterol. To get the most benefit, exercise for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week. If that seems like too much, start out slow and work your way up.

Keep a healthy weight:

Keeping a healthy weight can help you control your blood sugar and lower your risk for kidney disease. Talk with your doctor about how much you should weigh. If you are overweight, just losing a few pounds can make a big difference.

Find more tips on healthy living here.


The AADE 7 Self-Care Behaviors: Learn more about these behaviors and download helpful worksheets.

Free educational brochures on kidney health:

Medicare Education Benefits course for professionals

AKF Helpline - to answer your kidney-related health questions: 1.866.300.2900


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