There are certain organs in our bodies that we know to take care of. For example, with each breath we take, we know the importance of our heart and lungs. But what about our kidneys? Do you know how important they are to your health and wellness?
Your kidneys are small, only about the size of a computer mouse, but they play an extremely important role in your overall health.
Your kidneys are small, only about the size of a computer mouse, but they play an extremely important role in your overall health. Kidneys filter all the blood in your body every 30 minutes. They work hard to remove waste, toxins and excess fluid from your body. And that’s not all. They also help control your blood pressure, keep your bones healthy, stimulate red blood cell production and regulate blood chemicals.
When your kidneys stop working properly, you can develop chronic kidney disease. In the United States more than one in seven adults is estimated to have chronic kidney disease, including Veterans. It’s important to learn more about the disease, what your risk factors are and how to keep your kidneys as healthy as possible.
What Is Chronic Kidney Disease?
Chronic kidney disease occurs when the kidneys are damaged and cannot filter blood as well as they should. When this happens, excess fluid and waste remain in the body and may cause other health problems, such as heart disease and stroke.
Chronic kidney disease usually occurs slowly over many years and gets worse over time. If it’s left untreated, it can progress to kidney failure and early cardiovascular disease. When the kidneys stop working, patients need dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease?
Many people with chronic kidney disease do not feel sick or notice any symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 40% of people with kidney disease are unaware they have it. The only way to know for sure if you have it is through testing. Your health care provider will use specific blood and urine tests to measure the creatinine level in your blood and protein in your urine to determine how well your kidneys are functioning.
What Are Some of the Risk Factors for Chronic Kidney Disease?
Anyone can get chronic kidney disease, but some people have risk factors that may increase their chances of developing it, such as:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Family history of chronic kidney disease
- Race (African Americans, Hispanics and American Indians are at higher risk for developing kidney failure.)
In the United States, diabetes and high blood pressure are the biggest risk factors for chronic kidney disease, making up around 75% of new cases. Other factors can also lead to chronic kidney disease, including:
- Injury to the kidney
- Kidney stones and infection
- Certain pain and cancer medications
- Some toxic chemicals
- Birth defects of the kidneys
Talk to your health care provider if you have any of these risk factors and make a plan to get tested and keep your kidneys healthy.
How Can I Keep My Kidneys Healthy?
You can help lower your risk for chronic kidney disease by controlling your risk factors, getting tested, making lifestyle changes and seeking treatment when needed. Even with chronic kidney disease, you can manage it and live a productive life. Here are some kidney-friendly tips:
- Keep your blood pressure under control. You and your health care provider can establish a target for your blood pressure. Since this is one of the biggest risk factors for kidney disease, it’s a critical one. Check out Protect Yourself From High Blood Pressure for some helpful tips.
- Keep your blood sugar levels in the proper range. If you have diabetes, be sure to stay within your target blood sugar range and work with your health care provider for strategies to ensure you’re equipped to do this.
- Get active. Activity helps to control your blood pressure and your blood sugar levels. It also reduces your chance of obesity. If you are overweight, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) MOVE! program can help you make lifestyle changes and reach a healthy weight.
- Get tested. If you have any of the risk factors described above, talk to your health care provider about getting tested regularly.
- Maintain a good fitness level. According to studies done by VA’s Office of Health Equity, Veterans with a “high fitness level” reduced their chances of chronic kidney disease by 80%. If you need some tips for staying active, check out Do Your Best to Find Ways to Be More Active.
- Talk to your health care team. If you have chronic kidney disease already, discuss a treatment plan, including possible medications, to help you protect your kidneys and lower your blood pressure. In addition, it’s important to know that certain medications can harm your kidneys, so talk to your health care provider about your risk factors and be sure to manage your medications safely.
What Treatments Are There?
Kidney disease can get worse over time and may lead to kidney failure. When this happens, treatment options include dialysis and kidney transplant. To learn more about the treatments Veterans receive through VA, check out the factsheet on kidney disease.
What Benefits Are Available?
If you’re enrolled in VA health care, there are several benefits for patients diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. These benefits can include:
- Mileage reimbursement or transportation related to dialysis
- Dialysis care
- Geriatrics and extended care programs, such as long-term care, respite care, adult day health care and more
- Home improvements necessary for the continuation of treatment, such as plumbing and electrical work for dialysis patients
- Training, medical equipment and home support for self-care dialysis done by a patient or designated caregiver at home
- Non-VA care in your community if VA facilities or services are not available
- Assistance from social workers who can help you access services and assist with case management, education, screenings and more
- Transplant services for eligible Veterans
For more information on each of these benefits, including program details and eligibility information, visit Veteran Kidney Disease Benefits.
- The CDC offers some additional information on kidney disease and some of the statistics related to it. They also offer tips on how to protect your kidneys.
- VA offers a playlist on YouTube about chronic kidney disease, testing, disease management and more.
- The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has a lot of information about how kidneys work, how to keep them healthy, what happens when they fail and much more.
These small organs play such a big role in our health and wellness. Let’s make sure we do our part to protect them and keep them working properly!