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Kidney Disease Risk Factors and Top Preventive Practices

Few organs are as vital as your kidneys, which stabilizes the makeup of your bloodstream, preventing the build-up of waste while regulating the presence of substances -- such as electrolytes and hormones -- that help our bodies function normally. Taking care of your kidneys will not only prevent kidney disease but also decrease the risk of other complications, such as cardiovascular disease. Identifying kidney disease risk factors is the first step to prevention.

About 26 million American adults have chronic kidney disease (CKD), and millions of others are at high risk of developing CKD, according to the National Kidney Foundation (NKF). Here are some things need to know to monitor the state of your kidneys.

Top Kidney Disease Risk Factors

There are a number of CKD risk factors, including

  • A history of diabetes (the leading cause of kidney failure)
  • High blood pressure (the second-leading cause of kidney failure)
  • a history of heart disease
  • A family history of kidney failure
  • Over the age of 60
  • Obstructions caused by kidney stones, tumors, or an enlarged prostate gland
  • Recurring urinary tract infections

African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics are more likely to suffer from kidney failure, due in part to the high rate of heart disease and diabetes within those communities, according to the NIH.

Awareness of these factors can help you gauge whether it's an issue you want to raise with your doctor. If you have any of these risk factors, speak with your doctor about how often you should be tested for CKD.

Monitoring for Symptoms

Unfortunately, many people live with kidney disease for a long time before ever knowing they have it, because severe symptoms don't always develop until kidney disease is more advanced.

According to the NKF, common symptoms of CKD include:

  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Poor appetite
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle cramping at night
  • Swollen feet and ankles
  • Puffiness around your eyes, especially in the morning
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Frequent urination, especially at night

Common tests for kidney disease include a blood test, which determines how well your kidneys are filtering your blood, and a urine test, which checks for albumin, a protein that can pass into the urine when kidneys are damaged.

Treatment Options

Kidney damage is generally permanent, so the best treatment involves catching the disease early through regular testing, giving you the best chance to prevent kidney failure.

If your kidneys fail, you will likely need to go on dialysis or receive a kidney transplant. Hemodialysis cleans your blood through a machine. It's usually done at a dialysis center, but can be done at home in some cases. There's also peritoneal dialysis, which uses the lining of your abdomen (peritoneum) and dialysis solution to filter your blood; this process may also be done at home. A kidney transplant, meanwhile, may come from a deceased donor or a live donor -- usually a relative with a similar blood type.

Preventive Actions

If you have any of the aforementioned risk factors, you can still prevent full-fledged CKD. According to the American Kidney Fund, the best prevention methods for kidney disease involve improving your diet and lifestyle:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a balanced diet of whole fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy products.
  • Limit salt intake.
  • Control portion sizes.
  • Eat slowly, and stop eating when you're no longer hungry.
  • Maintain healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • Keep your blood pressure and blood sugar levels low.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
  • Limit or eliminate alcohol use.
  • Don't smoke or chew tobacco.

Preventing kidney disease is similar to how we prevent numerous chronic diseases: It starts by knowing the relevant risk factors. A major part of what we can control revolves around our diet and physical activity. And just like other conditions, the sooner you catch kidney disease, the sooner you can treat it.

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