Kidney disease is often called a “silent epidemic.” This is because people with kidney disease normally do not have symptoms of kidney problems (like fatigue, nausea, vomiting or swelling) until their kidney disease is very advanced and the options for slowing or reversing the disease process are limited. If we can catch signs of kidney problems early, we have a much better chance of finding out what is causing the problems and starting therapies that may help to slow or reverse the process.
That is why it’s so important to get your kidney function checked at least yearly if you are in a group of people who are at high risk for kidney disease. This includes individuals who have diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease or a family history of chronic kidney disease. If you have one of these conditions or even if you are just worried about your kidneys, make sure that you ask your doctor if your kidney function has been checked in the past year, and if not, ask if you can get simple blood or urine tests to check how well your kidneys are functioning.
Common tests that your doctor might give include a blood test for a protein called creatinine, and urine tests to see whether you have abnormal amounts of blood or protein in your urine. Creatinine is a muscle protein that builds up in your blood if your kidneys are not working well. A high blood creatinine level may mean that your kidneys are not working properly. Blood or protein in your urine may also indicate problems with your kidneys, and may require your doctor to do further testing to find out the cause. Be sure to ask your doctor about the results and what they mean. If your creatinine level is high, be sure to ask for the number and keep track of the levels over time.
There are also questions you should ask your doctor about what you can do to help keep yourself as healthy as possible. This includes asking your doctor:
- Advice on how to quit smoking if you are an active smoker;
- What a healthy weight is for you and tips on how to lose weight and maintain your weight in a healthy way;
- Recommendations for eating a healthy diet, with special consideration for any dietary restrictions given medical conditions you may have or conditions you are being mindful of;
- How much exercise you should be including in your daily routine; and
- Any drugs that you should avoid.
Be proactive in knowing about your kidneys and ways to protect them. No one should be more invested in protecting them than you!
Dr. Gutiérrez is a member of the American Kidney Fund’s National Board of Trustees and serves as Chair of Medical Affairs. He is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the School of Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology in the School of Public Health. He also serves as the section head for outcomes and epidemiology research in the school’s Division of Nephrology.