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Kidney Health: Learn

Your kidneys are vital to your health! Your kidneys perform many important jobs such as getting rid of too much water or keeping water, removing waste from the body, and keeping many electrolytes and chemicals in proper functioning balance. Your kidneys also make important hormones that help control blood pressure, make red blood cells and keep your bones strong.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a serious health problem for many Americans. CKD can make you feel tired or have pain and can lead to many other serious symptoms/illnesses and even death. In CKD, your kidneys are damaged and don’t work properly. It’s called “chronic” because the damage to kidneys happens slowly over a long period of time and does not go away by itself.

Untreated, CKD often gets worse over time and may lead to kidney failure. If your kidneys fail, you will need regular dialysis or a kidney transplant to maintain your health.

While all ethnic groups can get CKD, African Americans, in particular, are at greater risk for CKD. Diabetes and high blood pressure are the two most common reasons for CKD. Scientists are studying other possible reasons for this increased risk, but consider these facts:

  • The rate of African Americans with kidney failure is more than 3 times higher than non-African Americans.
  • African Americans make up more than 35% of all patients in the U.S. receiving dialysis for kidney failure.
  • Many African Americans already know they have diabetes or high blood pressure, but many are not aware they also are at risk for CKD.

Many people are afraid to learn that they have kidney disease because they think that all kidney disease leads to dialysis. However, most people with kidney disease can be managed thru medication, diet and activity and won’t need dialysis. Many people with mild kidney disease can continue to live a productive life, working, spending time with friends and family, and enjoying normal activities -- if they take steps to stop or slow its progression early.

Awareness is the first key to better health. The sooner you know you are at risk for kidney disease or have CKD, the sooner you can make lifestyle changes and receive medical care to protect your kidneys from further damage.

Part of the awareness is to “know your numbers” and one of the numbers that you should know is the “GFR” (or the similar estimated GFR -- “eGFR”). GFR stands for Glomerular Filtration rate and simply tells you how well your kidneys are working at filtering out waste and maintaining water balance in your blood. This screening will tell you if you have kidney disease and will let you know if you need to take further steps to protect your kidneys.

  • If you don’t know your GFR, ask your doctor…If you’ve had any kind of a checkup in the past, there’s a good chance that your doctor has already done this blood test on you. Ask your doctor if you had the GFR test, what it means, and how often should you repeat the test
  • In general, for most adults, a GFR of 60 or more is in the normal range, while a GFR of less than 60 may mean you have kidney disease and a GFR of 15 or less normally means that your kidneys are failing. Most people below 15 need dialysis or a kidney transplant, but talk with your health care provider about your specific treatment options.

Another test that is important, particularly if you have diabetes or high blood pressure, is a urine test to check for albumin. Albumin is a protein that can leak from the blood into the urine when the kidneys are damaged. A urine albumin result of:

  • 30 mg/g or less is normal
  • more than 30 mg/g may be a sign of kidney disease

If you have kidney disease, your health care provider will use these same two tests to help monitor your kidney disease and make sure your treatment plan is working

Don’t guess if you have kidney disease and don’t wait to become sick. Early detection is the best way to avoid health problems and stay healthy. Whether you do it for yourself or encourage it for the ones you love, get screened. You’re worth it. Now, you’re ready to ACT.

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Your mental health also affects your overall well-being. When you’ve finished the Kidney Health section, be sure to complete the Emotional Well-Being section.


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