Diabetes and the Risk for Kidney Disease

Diabetes and the Risk for Kidney Disease

COVID-19 derailed routine health care for many. You might have skipped your annual wellness check. Maybe you put your mammogram or colonoscopy on hold. Or you decided to tough your way through that arthritis flair up. You weren’t alone.

Experts say about one in five U.S. adults delayed or skipped health care due to coronavirus worries.

Yes, care providers tried to fill in the gaps with telemedicine visits during the height of lockdowns. Still, everything from regular blood pressure and cholesterol checks to critical cancer screenings, routine shots, and a lot more fell through the cracks.    

If you have diabetes, you may not know about an important measure to protect your kidney health that launched during the 2020 confusion. What do your kidneys have to do with diabetes? It turns out, people living with diabetes leaving site icon  have a higher risk of kidney disease.

About 37 million adults in the U.S. have kidney disease. Nearly 90 percent of them don’t even know they have it because it’s under-diagnosed by primary care doctors.

“Kidney disease doesn’t have symptoms in its early stages, so routine testing for those at high risk is the only way to diagnose it early and help stave off its life-threatening complications,” says Joseph Vassalotti, MD, Chief Medical Officer for the National Kidney Foundationleaving site icon 

Filtering Through the Facts

The kidneys are vital for good overall health. They remove waste, toxins and excess fluid out of the body. They also help control blood pressure, trigger production of red blood cells, keep bones strong and control blood chemicals vital to life.

When the kidneys are damaged, they no longer filter blood the way they should. Chronic kidney disease, or CKD, sets in. Extra fluid and waste stay in the body.

CKD can lead to other health problems. Heart disease and stroke are just two.

Those with CKD may also deal with:

  • Anemia
  • Infections
  • Abnormal calcium, potassium and phosphorus levels
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression

CKD usually gets worse over time. Treatment can slow its progression. Left untreated, it can morph into kidney failure. At that point, dialysis or a kidney transplant is needed to survive.

Catching Kidney Disease Early

Health guidelines recommend people with diabetes have routine tests for chronic kidney disease. The tests are low cost and widely available. Yet, they’re often overlooked during routine clinic visits. Now a new data tool – the kidney health evaluation is changing that.

The kidney health evaluation tracks adults (age 18-85) with diabetes who get an annual kidney health screening. The screening includes two tests:

  • Glomerular filtration rate (GFR). This blood test checks kidney function. It measures how well the kidneys remove waste and excess fluid from the blood.
  • Microalbumin-to-creatinine (uACR). This urine test checks for kidney damage. It measures the amount of protein (albumin) and waste (creatinine) in the urine.

Results from the tests give doctors the information they need to detect kidney disease. By finding kidney disease early, patients have a better chance of avoiding dialysis or a transplant.

Ask Your Doctor About Testing

Remember, a kidney health screening isn’t always part of a routine health exam. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or are obese, talk with your doctor about testing for kidney disease – even if you don’t have symptoms.

Don’t be shy. Remember, CKD is often missed or found late when treatment options are more serious and outcomes not as good. It’s best to detect kidney disease early.

Follow Your Treatment Plan

Depending on test results, more testing, lifestyle changes, medicines and a referral to a kidney specialist are some of the next steps. If you are diagnosed with kidney disease, be sure to follow the treatment plan you create with your doctor.

Watch your blood sugar levels and take good care of your kidneys. When you do, you help your body work better so you can be healthier.

Sources: One in Five Report Delayed Health Care During Pandemic, leaving site icon Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 2021; Kidney Health: A New HEDIS Measure, leaving site icon NCQA, 2020; Chronic Kidney Disease Basics, leaving site icon CDC, 2022;  Get Tested and Diagnosed, leaving site icon Bayer, 2022.
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