March is National Kidney Month

National Kidney Month is a time to raise awareness about kidney health. Kidney disease affects 14% of Americans. About 1 in 3 is at risk for kidney disease due to diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history of kidney failure. Learn how kidneys work hard to keep you healthy, the effects of poor kidney health, common symptoms, what the risk factors are for kidney disease and how you can treat kidney disease.

How kidneys work hard to keep us healthy

Kidneys are about the size of a fist and sit below the rib cage. Healthy kidneys may filter nearly half a cup of blood a minute, taking out waste and extra water to create urine. This process helps to keep balance in the body by making sure your blood has the right amount of water, salts and minerals. Without that balance, your body – nerves, muscles and other tissues – may not work normally.

Effects of poor kidney health and chronic kidney disease (CKD)

Chronic kidney disease (CKD), or chronic kidney failure, is what happens when kidneys stop working properly. At a late stage, chronic kidney disease can cause dangerous levels of fluid, electrolytes and waste to build up in your body. These can lead to many other complications, like:

  • Heart disease
  • Weak bones
  • Anemia
  • Erectile dysfunction, lower fertility or sex drive
  • Damage to the nervous system and immune system
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Kidney failure

Treatment for kidney failure and end-stage renal disease (ESRD)

Kidney function below 15% of normal is considered kidney failure. End-stage renal disease (ESRD) is when kidney failure is treated by dialysis (having a machine clean your blood because your kidney isn’t able to) or kidney transplant.

Chronic kidney disease symptoms

Early CKD may not have any symptoms. Even if your kidneys are damaged and not working at full strength, your may be doing enough to keep you feeling well. If this is the case, you may only discover kidney disease by having your blood or urine tested. However, as kidney disease gets worse, swelling can occur in the legs, feet, ankles, hands or face. Other symptoms may include:

  • chest pain
  • dry skin
  • itching or numbness
  • tiredness
  • headaches
  • increased or decreased urination
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle cramps

Risk factors for chronic kidney disease

  1. Diabetes is the leading cause of CKD. 1 in 3 people with diabetes also has chronic kidney disease.
  2. High blood pressure is the second leading cause of CKD and affects t 1 in 5 adults with high blood pressure.
  3. Heart disease is more likely to affect people with kidney disease. Those with kidney disease are more likely to be affected by heart disease.
  4. Family history. You are at a higher risk if a family member has kidney failure. Talk to your family about getting tested if you have kidney disease.

Other risk factors: Your chances of having kidney disease increase with age. African Americans, Hispanics and American Indians are at greater risk for CKD.

How to keep kidneys strong

A healthy lifestyle is the best way to keep your kidneys strong. Here are some simple things you can do:

  • Drink plenty of water: Dark urine is a sign you’re dehydrated.
  • Eat healthy: Lots of fruits, vegetables and grains.
  • Keep an eye on blood pressure: You can check your blood pressure at the pharmacy or the doctor’s office.
  • Don’t smoke or drink too much alcohol
  • Lose weight or stay slim: Exercise and diet will help by lowering blood pressure.