By Bob Aronson
As I did the research for this blog, I “Cherry Picked” information from a great many sources. I am not a medical professional, but made every effort to ensure that the information I used came from experts. I have identified sources where possible.
This is a blog, it is made up of a good many opinions. You should not make decisions about your health based on this or any other posting or even your own research. Only a highly skilled, educated and experienced physician can do that. Blogs like this can only offer you general information. As you read this remember that no two people are exactly alike. What works for one person may cause serious damage to another even though they share similar characteristics. Your health is too important to be left to chance. It should be managed by a qualified physician who can focus on your specific condition, examine you, call for appropriate tests, diagnose and then develop a treatment program to meet your unique needs.
Kidney disease is disabling and killing us and no one seems to be paying attention. To get yours I am going to start this post with some startling, even shocking facts.
- Chronic kidney disease can lead to kidney failure, heart attack, stroke and death. In fact, kidney disease is the nation’s ninth leading cause of death
- 26 million Americans have kidney disease (many of whom don’t yet know it) and an additional 76 million are at high risk of developing it.
- Of the 122,000 people on the national organ transplant waiting list about 100,000 are waiting for kidneys and there are not enough to go around.
- Nearly a half million Americans are getting dialysis and the number is growing rapidly.
- Diabetics are in the greatest danger of developing kidney disease and The American Diabetes Association says 25.8 million of us have it, that’s 8.3 percent of the U.S. population. Of these, 7 million do not know they are diabetic.
- And – a final startling fact. Kidney disease kills 100 thousand Americans a year, that’s more than prostate and breast cancer combined, but kidney disease gets nowhere near the publicity or concern of those two malignancies.
Got your attention? Ok…there’s a lot more to come but first let’s define the topic. – just exactly what do kidneys do and what is kidney disease? Here’s what the National Kidney Foundation says:
“The kidneys are bean-shaped organs, each about the size of a fist. They are located just below the rib cage, one on each side of the spine. The kidneys are sophisticated reprocessing machines. Every day, a person’s kidneys filter about 120 to 150 quarts of blood to produce about 1 to 2 quarts of waste products and extra fluid. The wastes and extra fluid become urine, which flows to the bladder through tubes called ureters. The bladder stores urine until releasing it through urination.”
So what is kidney disease? The Mayo Clinic offers this explanation:
“Chronic kidney disease, also called chronic kidney failure, describes the gradual loss of kidney function. Your kidneys filter wastes and excess fluids from your blood, which are then excreted in your urine. When chronic kidney disease reaches an advanced stage, dangerous levels of fluid, electrolytes and wastes can build up in your body.
In the early stages of chronic kidney disease, you may have few signs or symptoms. Chronic kidney disease may not become apparent until your kidney function is significantly impaired.
Treatment for chronic kidney disease focuses on slowing the progression of the kidney damage, usually by controlling the underlying cause. Chronic kidney disease can progress to end-stage kidney failure, which is fatal without artificial filtering (dialysis) or a kidney transplant.”
Causes of Kidney Disease
What causes Kidney disease? First let’s define terms. There’s ESRD (End Stage Renal Disease or Kidney failure), where the organs just quit working and there is CKD (Chronic Kidney Disease) which can lead to kidney failure. The causes could be many but the most common are Diabetes and High blood pressure. There are concerns, too, that some environmental factors may also contribute to both CKD and ESRD. Sri Lanka, for example, has banned Monsanto Corporation’s “Roundup” herbicide on the grounds that it causes both kidney maladies. Monsanto says its studies offer convincing evidence that the charges are not true.
What to do about it
Much is known about who faces the greatest risks of developing chronic kidney disease and how it can be prevented, detected in its early stages, and treated to slow or halt its progression. But unless people at risk are tested, they are unlikely to know they have kidney disease; it produces no symptoms until it is quite advanced.
Even when it is not fatal, the cost of treating end-stage kidney disease through dialysis or a kidney transplant is astronomical, more than fivefold what Medicare pays annually for the average patient over age 65. The charges do not include the inestimable costs to quality of life among patients with advanced kidney disease.
Much is known about who faces the greatest risks of developing chronic kidney disease and how it can be prevented, detected in its early stages, and treated to slow or halt its progression. But unless people at risk are tested, they are unlikely to know they have kidney disease; it produces no symptoms until it is quite advanced. And…it appears as though it is quite common that many physicians overlook simple tests that could save lives. For example, high blood pressure, is a leading cause of kidney failure yet many physicians don’t check to see how well vital organs are functioning. Patients, then, have to be their own advocates and insist on tests to see what effect diabetes and/or high blood pressure are affecting their organs. For some reason kidney disease often is not on the medical radar, and in as many as three-fourths of patients with risk factors for poor kidney function, physicians fail to use a simple, inexpensive test to check for urinary protein. So, our message to you is simple…make sure your doctor checks the amount of protein in your urine at least once a year.
A study published in April online in The American Journal of Kidney Disease demonstrated how common lifestyle factors can harm the kidneys. Researchers led by Dr. Alex Chang of Johns Hopkins University followed more than 2,300 young adults for 15 years. Participants were more likely to develop kidney disease if they smoked, were obese or had diets high in red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened drinks and sodium, but low in fruit, legumes, nuts, whole grains and low-fat dairy.
Only 1 percent of participants with no lifestyle-related risk factors developed protein in their urine, an early indicator of kidney damage, while 13 percent of those with three unhealthy factors developed the condition, known medically as proteinuria. Obesity alone doubled a person’s risk of developing kidney disease; an unhealthy diet raised the risk even when weight and other lifestyle factors were taken into account.
Overall, the risk was highest among African-Americans; those with diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history of kidney disease; and those who consumed more soft drinks, red meat and fast food.
Dr. Beth Piraino, president of the National Kidney Foundation, said, “We need to shift the focus from managing chronic kidney disease to preventing it in the first place.” And one of the ways to prevent kidney disease is to live healthier. I know, no one wants to hear those words, “Live Healthier.” Ok, I won’t use them again, but if you eat right and get the right kind and amount of exercise you can avoid kidney problems. Want some good recipes and ideas for weight control? Try this link http://www.kidney.org/patients/kidneykitchen/FriendlyCooking.cfm
You are at greater risk of having kidney disease if others in your family have it or had it, genetic factors are important, but in addition you should know that African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian-Americans and American Indians are more likely than white Americans to develop kidney disease. I have been unable to find out why. One Doctor said that prevention is the key and that it is not very complicated. “I wouldn’t have to work so hard if they didn’t smoke, reduced their salt intake, ate more fresh fruits and vegetables, and increased their physical activity. These are things people can do for themselves. They involve no medication.”
Physicians also urge patients with any risk factor for kidney disease to be screened annually with inexpensive urine and blood tests. That includes seniors 65 and above, for whom the cost is covered by Medicare. Free testing is also provided by the National Kidney Foundation for people with diabetes.
The urine test can pick up abnormal levels of protein, which is supposed to stay in the body, compared with the amount of creatinine, a waste product that should be excreted. The blood test, called an eGFR (for estimated glomerular filtration rate), measures how much blood the kidneys filter each minute, indicating how effectively they are functioning.
If it is determined that you have kidney disease you should be referred to a nephrologist. If you are not referred, ask for a referral. The Nephrologist will work closely with your family physician to help control the disease.
There are two medications commonly used to treat high blood pressure that often halt or delay the progression of kidney disease in people with diabetes: ACE inhibitors and ARB’s (angiotensin receptor blockers). Careful control of blood sugar levels also protects the kidneys from further damage.
As I conducted the research for this blog I found that one of the most comprehensive websites for factual, understandable information about Kidney Disease is India’s “The Health Site.” It also contains a good deal of advertising and other questionable material, but its information on the kidneys and kidney disease is backed up by solid research. What follows is some of it. http://www.thehealthsite.com/
12 Possible Kidney Disease Symptoms
Even an unhealthy lifestyle with a high calorie diet, certain medicines. lots of soft drinks and sugar consumption can also cause kidney damage. Here is a list of twelve symptoms which could indicate something is wrong with your kidney:
- Changes in your urinary function: The first symptom of kidney disease is changes in the amount and frequency of your urination. There may be an increase or decrease in amount and/or its frequency, especially at night. It may also look more dark coloured. You may feel the urge to urinate but are unable to do so when you get to the restroom.
- Difficulty or pain during voiding: Sometimes you have difficulty or feel pressure or pain while voiding. Urinary tract infections may cause symptoms such as pain or burning during urination. When these infections spread to the kidneys they may cause fever and pain in your back.
- Blood in the urine: This is a symptom of kidney disease which is a definite cause for concern. There may be other reasons, but it is advisable to visit your doctor in case you notice it.
- Swelling: Kidneys remove wastes and extra fluid from the body. When they are unable to do so, this extra fluid will build up causing swelling in your hands, feet, ankles and/or your face. Read more about swelling in the feet.
- Extreme fatigue and generalised weakness: Your kidneys produce a hormone called erythropoietin which helps make red blood cells that carry oxygen. In kidney disease lower levels of erythropoietin causes decreased red blood cells in your body resulting in anaemia. There is decreased oxygen delivery to cells causing generalised weakness and extreme fatigue. Read more about the reasons for fatigue.
- Dizziness & Inability to concentrate: Anaemia associated with kidney disease also depletes your brain of oxygen which may cause dizziness, trouble with concentration, etc.
- Feeling cold all the time: If you have kidney disease you may feel cold even when in a warm surrounding due to anaemia. Pyelonephritis (kidney infection) may cause fever with chills.
- Skin rashes and itching: Kidney failure causes waste build-up in your blood. This can causes severe itching and skin rashes.
- Ammonia breath and metallic taste: Kidney failure increases level of urea in the blood (uraemia). This urea is broken down to ammonia in the saliva causing urine-like bad breath called ammonia breath. It is also usually associated with an unpleasant metallic taste (dysgeusia) in the mouth.
10. Nausea and vomiting: The build-up of waste products in your blood in kidney disease can also cause nausea and vomiting. Read 13 causes for nausea.
11. Shortness of breath: Kidney disease causes fluid to build up in the lungs. And also, anaemia, a common side-effect of kidney disease, starves your body of oxygen. You may have trouble catching your breath due to these factors.
12. Pain in the back or sides: Some cases of kidney disease may cause pain. You may feel a severe cramping pain that spreads from the lower back into the groin if there is a kidney stone in the ureter. Pain may also be related to polycystic kidney disease, an inherited kidney disorder, which causes many fluid-filled cysts in the kidneys. Interstitial cystitis, a chronic inflammation of the bladder wall, causes chronic pain and discomfort.
It is important to identify kidney disease early because in most cases the damage in the kidneys can’t be undone. To reduce your chances of getting severe kidney problems, see your doctor when you observe one or more of the above symptoms. If caught early, kidney disease can be treated very effectively.
Kidney Disease Prevention
Ten Steps you can take
Our kidneys are designed such that their filtration capacity naturally declines after the age of 30-40 years. With every decade after your 30s, your kidney function is going to reduce by 10%. But, if you’re going to increase the load on your kidneys right from the beginning, your risk of developing kidney disease later in life will definitely be higher. To be on the safe side, follow these few tips and take good care of your kidneys to prevent the risk of developing kidney problems.
1. Manage diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease: In most of the cases, kidney disease is a secondary illness that results from a primary disease or condition such as diabetes, heart diseases or high blood pressure. Therefore, controlling sugar levels, cholesterol and blood pressure by following a healthy diet, exercise regimen and medication guidelines is essential to keep kidney disease at bay.
2. Reduce the intake of salt: Salt increases the amount of sodium in diet. It not only increases blood pressure but also triggers the formation of kidney stones. Here are a few tips to actually cut down your salt intake.
3. Drink lots of water every day: Water keeps you hydrated and helps the kidneys to remove all the toxins from your body. It helps the body to maintain blood volume and concentration. It also helps in digestion and controls the body temperature. At least 8-10 glasses of water a day is a must.
4. Don’t resist the urge to urinate: Filtration of blood is a key function that your kidneys perform. When the process of filtration is done, extra amount of wastes and water is stored in the urinary bladder that needs to be excreted. Although your bladder can only hold a lot of urine, the urge to urinate is felt when the bladder is filled with 120-150 ml of urine.
So, if start ignoring the urge to go to the restroom, the urinary bladder stretches more than its capacity. This affects the filtration process of the kidney.
5. Eat right: Nearly all processes taking place inside your body are affected by what you choose to eat and how you eat. If you eat more unhealthy, junk and fast food, then your organs have to face the consequences, including the kidneys. Here’s more information on the relation between unhealthy diet and kidney damage.
You should include right foods in your diet. Especially foods that can strengthen your kidneys like fish, asparagus, cereals, garlic and parsley. Fruits like watermelon, oranges and lemons are also good for kidney health.
6. Drink healthy beverages: Including fresh juices is another way of drinking more fluids and keeping your kidneys healthy. Juices help the digestive system to extract more water and flush out wastes from the body. Avoid drinking coffee and tea. They contain caffeine which reduces the amount of fluids in the body. So, the kidneys have to work harder to get rid of them.
If you’re already suffering from kidney problems, you should avoid juices made from vegetables such as spinach and beets. These foods are rich in oxalic acid and they help in the formation of kidney stones. But you can definitely have coconut water.
7. Avoid alcohol and smoking: Excess intake of alcohol can disturb the electrolyte balance of the body and hormonal control that influences the kidney function. Smoking is not directly related to kidney problems but it reduces kidney function significantly. It also has an adverse effect on heart health which can further worsen kidney problems.
8. Exercise daily: Researchers believe that obesity is closely linked to kidney related problems. Being overweight doubles the chances of developing kidney problems. Exercising, eating healthy and controlling portion size can surely help you to lose extra weight and enhance kidney health. Besides, you will always feel fresh and active. Here’s more about how obesity and kidney disease are linked.
9. Avoid self-medication: All the medicines you take have to pass through the kidney for filtration. Increased dosage or taking medicines that you are not aware of can increase the toxin load on your kidneys. That’s why you should always follow dosage recommendations and avoid self-medication. Read more about how drugs affect the kidneys.
10. Think before you take supplements and herbal medicine: If you’re on vitamin supplements or if you’re taking some herbal supplements, you should reconsider your dosage requirement. Excessive amount of vitamins and certain plant extracts are linked to kidney damage. You should talk to your doctor about the risk of kidney disease before taking them.
Dialysis and Transplantation
By Ed Bryant
(I could find no additional information about Mr. Bryant other than the following website. His information, though, is sound).
Dialysis is not an “artificial kidney.” A person undergoing hemodialysis must be hooked up to a machine three times a week, three to four hours per session. A normal vein cannot tolerate the 16–gauge needles that must be inserted into the arm during hemodialysis, so the doctor must surgically connect a vein in the wrist with an artery, forming a bulging fistula that will better accommodate the large needles needed for treatment.
Like the kidney, a hemodialysis machine is a filter. Where it uses tubes and chemicals, the kidney uses millions of microscopic blood vessels, fine enough to pass urine while retaining suspended proteins. Long–term high blood glucose can significantly damage the kidney’s filters, leading to scarring, blockage, and diminished renal function. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease. Long–term diabetics often have cardiovascular and blood pressure problems, and the added strain of hemodialysis, with its rise in blood pressure straining eyes and heart function, can be too much for some. The diabetic dialysis patient spends, on the average, 33% more time in the hospital than does the non–diabetic dialysis patient, according to 1999 USRDS figures.
Some patients choose CAPD (continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis) or its variant, CCPD (continuous cycling peritoneal dialysis), both of which can be carried out at home, without an assistant. Unlike hemodialysis, which uses a big machine to remove toxic impurities from the blood, peritoneal dialysis works inside the body, making use of the peritoneal membrane to retain a reservoir of dialysis solution, which is exchanged for fresh solution, via catheter, every four to eight hours. CAPD is carried out by the patient, who simply exchanges spent for fresh solution, every four to eight hours, at home, at work, or while travelling. CCPD, its variant, makes use of an automated cycler, which performs the exchanges while the patient is asleep. Although more complicated and machine–dependent, it does allow daytime freedom from exchanges, and may be the appropriate choice for some. Though the risk of infections is heightened (as it is with any permanent catheterization), these two processes have advantages, one being that insulin can be added to the dialysis solution, freeing the patient from the need to inject, and giving good blood sugar control.
Kidney transplantation is a logical alternative for many. It substantially improves a patient’s quality of life. Although the transplant recipient must be on anti–rejection/ immunosuppressive therapy for life, with the inherent risk from otherwise nuisance infections, a transplant frees the patient from the many hours spent on hemodialysis procedures each week, or from the periodic “exchanges” and open catheter of CAPD, allowing a nearly normal lifestyle. For those ESRD patients who can handle the stresses of transplant surgery, the resulting gains in physical well–being add up to real improvement in quality of life and overall longevity.
“Fifty percent of all kidney transplantations taking place today are into diabetics,” states Giacomo Basadonna, MD, PhD, a transplant surgeon at Yale University School of Medicine, in New Haven, Connecticut. He reports that success rates are identical with kidney transplants performed on non–diabetic ESRD patients. “Today,” he advises, “average kidney survival, from a living donor, is greater than 15 years.”
One of the areas where we are seeing rapid improvement is immunosuppressive medication. The traditional mix of immunosuppressants: cyclosporine, prednisone, imuran, is giving way to more targeted medications that may have fewer side effects. Cellcept, by Roche/Syntex, and Rapamycin (Rapamune), by Wyeth/Ayerst, have been approved by the FDA, and others are being tested. The risk of organ rejection is always present, but each new development increases the chances of success.
I and others knowledgeable in kidney transplantation advise you to pick the best transplant center possible. Once you have read their statistics, ask your prospective center the following questions. If they don’t answer to your satisfaction, you should consider going to another center.
1. Do you have an information packet for prospective donors and recipients?
2. Can you put me in touch with someone who has had a transplant at your center?
3. What is your “graft survival” (success) rate?
4. Who will my transplant surgeon be? If a fellow or resident, will he/she be supervised by a practicing transplant surgeon?
5. How long have your current surgeons been doing kidney transplants? How many have they done? That your center has 35 years experience with kidney transplants is of little consequence if my surgeon has only done ten in his or her career.
6. What is the average post–operative stay in your hospital?
7. When I come for my transplant, or come back for follow–ups, will there be any affordable housing for me and/or my family? (Ronald McDonald House, or other lodging with discount rates…) or will I get stuck in a luxury hotel for $125 a night?
8. How often will I need to come back to the center for follow–ups? Can my nephrologist do the blood tests and send you the results?
9. Can you recommend a nephrologist in my area?
10. Do you have a toll–free number to call for after–transplant information?
11. What is your policy on people with insufficient health insurance? Will you work with an uninsured patient? What will it cost?
12. Are you prepared to satisfy my doubts? Will you show me the documents that answer my questions? Will you guarantee the price quoted?
Kidney disease can be manageable if caught early and treated appropriately. The information contained in this blog should allow you to make good decisions that can provide you with the quality of life you seek and deserve. For more information about kidney disease and treatment here are some additional sources.
Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 4,000 member Organ Transplant Initiative (OTI) and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs. You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.