March is National Kidney Month, which marks the kickoff of the American Kidney Fund’s (AKF) annual schedule of free kidney health screenings. Since 2004, we’ve provided free screenings to more than 100,000 people across the country, and we encourage anyone with chronic kidney disease (CKD) risk factors to get screened. You can find a list of common risks here.
As many as 31 million Americans are currently living with CKD, but most don’t know it because there are no early-stage symptoms. The only way to know if your kidneys are functioning properly is to get tested. With early detection, CKD can be managed and its progression can often be slowed. That’s why taking advantage of AKF’s free health and kidney screenings is so important for your health.
AKF screenings include five simple steps that lead to kidney health awareness. It’s important to note that AKF’s kidney health screenings do not provide a medical diagnosis; instead, they offer a snapshot of your health. You can discuss the information you receive at the screening with your doctor, and use what you learn at the event to take preventive measures to improve your overall health and reduce your risk for CKD.
If you’re considering a free AKF kidney health screening this year, you are probably wondering what to expect. Below we’ve outlined the five simple steps that occur during and after a typical AKF screening, which can lead you to greater kidney health awareness.
Step One: Attend a local, free screening event and complete a registration form.
When you arrive at the screening location, give yourself a big pat on the back because you’re one step closer to a healthier you. We’ll ask you to complete a simple screening registration form that includes questions about your personal health history and your family health history. It’s important to provide accurate answers to these questions, as they help determine your risk for kidney disease.
Step Two: Have simple tests to check for CKD risk factors.
After you complete the registration form, you will have one or more tests to check for CKD risk factors. The tests you receive will vary by screening location; however, every AKF screening includes a blood pressure check because high blood pressure and diabetes are the leading causes of CKD. In some locations, you also will have a glucose (blood sugar) test. Depending on the screening location, AKF may also be providing a Body Mass Index/waist circumference check, a total cholesterol test, or an A1C test, which checks for diabetes. With all of these tests, you will get instant results so you can receive on-the-spot answers to your health questions.
Step Three: Meet with a health counselor for a one-on-one discussion.
Next, you will meet with a healthcare professional to learn more about what your results mean to you and your future health. You’ll learn how your results are related to risks for kidney disease and how to maintain or improve your health. If your test results are within the normal range, you will receive educational information on kidney disease and suggestions for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. We encourage you to share your test results with your primary care physician.
If any of your screening results are outside the normal range, or if you indicated on your registration form that you have a family history of CKD, you will proceed to the next station.
Step Four: Take a kidney health test and review your test results.
A kidney health test involves a blood draw, which will check your blood’s level of creatinine—a waste product that comes from muscles. Healthy kidneys filter creatinine out of your blood. From your creatinine result, your estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) will be calculated. The eGFR calculation estimates how well your kidneys are working and is determined using a formula that includes your creatinine test results, age, sex and race. You can learn more about eGFR levels here.
Blood test results will be mailed to you in 10 to 14 business days. Once you get your results, you’ll need to know what the numbers mean. Here’s what you need to know:
- An eGFR of 60 or greater is an indicator that your kidneys are functioning within the normal range.
- If your eGFR is lower than 60, you should talk to your doctor soon. If this was your first eGFR test, ask your doctor when you should be tested again. Your doctor will want to see if your eGFR is less than 60 for three or more months. A result of less than 60 for three or more months is an indicator of CKD.
Step Five: Follow up with your physician and spread the word about kidney disease.
Remember, CKD can be stopped or slowed if it is identified and treated early, so following up with your physician is essential for good health. Most people with kidney disease do not have any symptoms, so getting tested can provide you with valuable information about your kidney health. Ask your doctor how often you should be tested. Just as importantly, talk to family members and friends, share the information you learned at the screening, encourage them to get tested and ask them to take steps for better health.
Please visit http://www.kidneyfund.org/get-tested/, to view our schedule of events. If there is not a screening in your community, ask your physician during your next annual exam to test your kidney function.
T’Kia Stewart, MPH, is the American Kidney Fund’s director of health initiatives. In 2013, the Health Initiatives Program provided free kidney health screenings in 20 communities nationwide.