March is Kidney Awareness Month: What You Need to Know about Your Kidneys, Chronic Kidney Disease and its Prevention

March is Kidney Awareness Month: What You Need to Know about Your Kidneys, Chronic Kidney Disease and its Prevention

The incidence of chronic kidney disease (CKD) in our country has increased significantly over the past 20 years. In analyzing national data from NHANES (National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that 16.4% of the population age 20 years and older have this condition. The incidence of obesity and diabetes has also increased in what seems to be epidemic proportions during this same period. Is there a connection?

First: What is the function of our kidneys?

Before I discuss CKD it’s important to understand what our kidneys do in our bodies. You might know that kidneys filter waste products and excess fluid out of our blood and eliminate them as urine. What you probably don’t know is that our kidneys filter 172 liters (over 45 gallons) of blood each day. Our bodies contain about 5 liters (1.3 gallons) of blood that circulates through the kidneys at a rate of 120 ml (about ½ cup) per minute. Another important function of the kidneys is they help to regulate our electrolyte* levels by filtering out excess minerals and keeping a very tight balance of the most important ones, including potassium and sodium. In addition, the kidneys produce several very important hormones, including erythropoietin (also called EPO), that stimulate your bone marrow to produce red blood cells** and calcitriol, the most active form of vitamin D.

What is chronic kidney disease and what causes it?

When our kidneys become damaged as a consequence of chronic inflammation, infections, exposure to toxins, excessive use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (over the counter pain medications), illicit drug use, or from a genetic condition, we call this chronic kidney disease.

The two most prevalent causes of CKD are thought to be diabetes (Type I and Type II) and high blood pressure. CKD can also be a strong indicator of vascular disease. It has been reported that amongst people with kidney disease, it’s likely that more than 80% may die of serious complications such as stroke or heart attack without even knowing their kidneys are damaged. This is unfortunate because the diagnosis is relatively simple:  A blood test for creatinine (a naturally occurring substance in our blood) and a urine test to detect proteins is all that is needed to evaluate the presence and severity of kidney disease. 

You’ve been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease – how can you prevent its progression?

When faced with a diagnosis of CKD, people often and understandably feel overwhelmed because it can lead to end-stage renal failure requiring dialysis or a kidney transplant for the patient to survive.  But it’s very important to remember that there are ways to prevent the progression of CKD once an initial diagnosis has been made:

  • Maintain a healthy weight to avoid obesity-related diabetes (Type II)
  • Treat hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Avoid cigarette smoking
  • Avoid excessive use of anti-inflammatory drugs (over-the-counter drugs with analgesic and fever-reducing effects such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen)
  • Avoid excessive use of alcohol
  • Avoid using illicit drugs
  • Keep your cholesterol low
  • Stay physically active and well hydrated

It’s important to note that no matter what stage your CKD has progressed to, short of renal failure, these simple preventive steps can help significantly.

Genetic kidney disease

Some causes of CKD, such as genetic or familial causes, we unfortunately cannot control. However, keeping healthy habits will make a big difference between a rapid or slow decline of kidney function.

If you have a family history of kidney disease, diabetes or hypertension, consult with your doctor. They can order tests that will gauge whether or not you have healthy kidneys. Use this information as a platform to educate yourself and to take charge of the long-term health of your kidneys.

Celebrate your Kidneys!

March is National Kidney Month – a great time to remember and appreciate your kidneys, and think about all the different ways you can participate in keeping them healthy. So give a toast to your kidneys – with a big glass of water!

*Electrolytes are essential minerals in your body that are necessary for nerve and muscle function, the body-fluid balance, and other critical processes.

**A single drop of blood contains millions of red blood cells which are constantly traveling through your body delivering oxygen and removing waste. Without red blood cells performing this function, your body would slowly die.

About Vilma Quijada, MD

Dr. Quijada is board certified in both Nephrology and Internal Medicine, and practices in VMC’s Nephrology Clinic in Kent (nephrology concerns the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases). She is also the Medical Director of the Renton Kidney Center. Originally from Panama, Dr. Quijada graduated from the University of Panama in 1977 and has been practicing in Nephrology since 1983. When she came to the U.S. in the late 1980s she trained in Internal Medicine and Nephrology at Georgetown University in Washington DC. Dr. Quijada is a Fellow of the American Society of Nephrology (FASN) and also holds “Hypertension Specialist” certification from the American Society of Hypertension. Passionate about helping people, Dr. Quijada truly loves educating her patients in a way that is meaningful to them. Married with two children and one grand-daughter that she is crazy about, Dr. Quijada enjoys hiking, sailing, and reading mysteries. And, she says, “I just love the rain.”

Valley Medical Center’s Nephrology Clinic is located at 24920 104th Ave SE in Kent. Phone: 425.227.0231.

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