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April 4, 2006 > Are You at Risk for Kidney Disease?

Are You at Risk for Kidney Disease?

A Healthier Lifestyle is Key to Prevention

There are an estimated 20 million people in the United States who suffer from chronic kidney disease and an additional 20 million who are at risk. And nearly half of the people with advanced form of kidney disease do not know they have weak or failing kidneys.

The good news is that kidney disease, like many others, can be avoided with a healthy lifestyle, exercise and close monitoring of blood pressure.

"People need to be active and eat more vegetables. It's pretty simple," said Dr. Lucia Yumena, a kidney specialist at Washington Hospital.

Kidneys perform a vital role to maintain a healthy body. In addition to removing waste, the kidneys also release hormones into the blood to help regulate blood pressure, make red blood cells and promote healthy bones. Over time, poor lifestyle habits damage this delicate process - leading to kidney disease.

The two main causes of chronic kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure, which are responsible for up to two-thirds of the cases. As the rate of diabetes and high blood pressure continues to rise in the United States, so does kidney disease, said Dr. Yumena.

Diabetes develops when blood sugar is consistently high, causing organ damage to the kidneys and heart, as well as blood vessels, nerves and eyes. Hypertension occurs with increased blood pressure against the vessel walls. If hypertension isn't managed, it can lead to heart attacks, strokes and chronic kidney disease. Also, chronic kidney disease can cause high blood pressure.

"If the patient listens to their doctor and manages their diabetes and hypertension, they can lower their risk of developing chronic kidney disease," said Dr. Yumena.

Race can also be a risk factor. People in a population group with a high rate of diabetes or high blood pressure, such as African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian, Pacific Islanders, and American Indians are at risk of developing the disease. Old age is also a risk factor. "But anyone can develop kidney disease," said Dr. Yumena.
Common symptoms of chronic kidney disease include:

  • trouble concentrating
  • fatigue
  • 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

Early detection and treatment can often keep chronic kidney disease from getting worse. A simple urine analysis in a doctor's office can detect kidney disease. A patient's blood can also be tested to indicate how well the kidneys are filtering wastes.

"If people have any of the risk factors, they shouldn't be shy about talking with their doctor about kidney disease," said Dr. Yumena.

She recommends that everyone avoid drinking sodas, excessive alcohol consumption and taking ibuprofen, all of which have chemicals that damage the kidneys. Smoking and high salt intake can contribute to kidney deterioration. When kidney disease develops into a chronic condition, the only option is dialysis or a kidney transplant. However, there is often up to a five year waiting list to get a new kidney, leaving the patient with a potential lifetime of cumbersome dialysis treatments.

A typical patient would get about four hours of dialysis treatments three times a week or more. "Instead of traveling or being out having fun, the patient has to sit on dialysis," Dr. Yumena said.

Dialysis alone is stressful and exhausting. "When the patient is done, they feel like they just got off a treadmill," said Dr. Yumena. "The treatment is so stressful on the heart, that a patient often develops heart disease."

As kidney disease gets worse, wastes builds up in the blood, causing a person to feel sick, weak or fatigued. Severe complications like high blood pressure, anemia, weak bones, heart disease and nerve damage could occur slowly over time if left untreated.

"People just need to take care of themselves. A healthy diet and exercise is the best advice any doctor can give," said Dr. Yumena.

For more information on kidney disease, visit the national kidney foundation website

Washington Township Health Care District has been committed to serving District residents since it was founded in 1948. For more information about Washington Hospital and its programs and services, visit
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