As a member of the American Kidney Fund's (AKF) Health Initiatives team, I travel to several health fairs and conventions each month, where we screen people for blood pressure, blood sugar and kidney function and teach them about how they can help prevent kidney disease. We run the nation's largest free kidney health screening program, Know Your Kidneys™: in 2018, the AKF team screened over 10,000 people for kidney disease and its risk factors! Participating in these events has given me the opportunity to work with people of different backgrounds across the country and has also given me a glimpse into some of the public's misconceptions about health.
Here are five reasons we commonly hear from people about why they do not get a kidney screening — and why you should get screened, even if you may feel the same way.
1. "I feel fine."
Kidney disease is a silent killer, meaning it usually has no symptoms in the early stages when the progression to kidney failure can be stopped or slowed down. Today, 37 million Americans are living with kidney disease, but 96% of people in the early stages do not know they have it. Diabetes affects 29 million Americans and it is the leading cause of kidney disease. Diabetic kidney disease happens slowly over time and it cannot be reversed — but knowing your blood sugar level and how to control it can help protect your kidneys and keep them from getting worse. High blood pressure, the #2 cause of kidney disease, is also a silent killer that can cause irreversible damage to your kidneys.
2. "I had a physical a few months ago."
Blood pressure and blood sugar readings should be taken regularly because knowing your levels is an important part of staying healthy. You should take your blood pressure twice per day if you have high blood pressure and twice per month if you do not — not just when you are at the doctor's office — to understand what a regular reading is for you. Try keeping a journal of your results to discuss with your doctor at your next visit. If you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, ask your doctor how often you should be taking your blood sugar. AKF has this handy chart to help you keep track of your readings.
3. "My smartwatch reads my blood pressure."
Smartwatches track the average number of times your heart beats per minute (BPM). This is not the same as blood pressure, which is the pressure created by your heart pumping blood throughout your body. BPM readings from smartwatches are not a substitute for taking your blood pressure.
4. "My levels are probably high right now because…"
Physical activity, stress and certain foods can cause spikes in blood pressure and blood sugar. However, these factors should not have a long-term effect on your results unless you have a pre-existing condition. You can learn about normal levels for blood sugar and blood pressure on AKF's website.
5. "I don't want to know"
It can be intimidating to get screened if you have never done it before but getting screened can empower you and your loved ones to take control of your health and help prevent kidney disease. It is better to know now, when you can do something about it, than to wait until later when a problem has gotten much worse. Some people also do not want to get screened because they know they have not been taking their medicines for diabetes and high blood pressure. It is very important to take your medicines as prescribed. Having a pill box can remind you to take your medicine when traveling or on the go. Our free kidney health screenings are quick and nothing to be afraid of! Check out our schedule of free health screenings around the country and stop by — no more excuses!