Kidney disease is more common than you think

Suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes, Gloria Stephens became extremely bloated and could barely walk, so she knew something else was wrong. She soon learned that her kidneys were failing, and she joined the ranks of the 1 in 7 people with kidney disease. Often called a “silent killer,” kidney disease can cause a person to lose up to 90 percent of kidney function and not even know it.

For National Kidney Month this March, Fresenius Kidney Care — a leading dialysis provider with more than 2,400 centers nationwide caring for more than 190,000 people — urges people to understand the symptoms of kidney disease and what to do if you suspect you may be at risk.

“I tell all of my friends and anyone I meet — you’ve got to ask questions,” recommends Gloria, 69, of Jacksonville, Florida, who now goes to a Fresenius Kidney Care center to receive her life-saving dialysis, which filters her blood because her kidneys no longer function effectively. “You’ve got to know what’s going on in your body.”

Here’s what you should keep in mind to protect yourself from kidney disease:

1. Know Your Risk. As Gloria learned, the two leading causes of kidney disease are high blood pressure and diabetes. Other risk factors include family history of kidney failure, kidney stones, smoking, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Your age — especially if you are over 50 — overall health and even ethnicity can also put you at greater risk for kidney disease. If you are African American, Hispanic or Native American, you may be more prone to the risk factors that lead to kidney disease.

2. Recognize the Symptoms. Signs and symptoms of kidney disease often occur after the condition has progressed, so early detection is key to maintaining kidney health. Talk to your doctor immediately if you notice any changes in your urine, or if you’re experiencing fatigue, itching, swelling in your hands or feet, shortness of breath or pain in the small of your back. Make sure your loved ones are aware of the symptoms, too, because they may notice something you don’t.

3. Get Screened Regularly. If you are at risk for kidney disease, you should be screened by your doctor at least once a year, including blood and urine tests like glomerular filtration rate (GFR). Your estimated GFR (eGFR) is calculated using blood as well as taking into consideration age, weight, body size and gender. The earlier kidney disease is detected, the greater the benefit of treatment.

4. Focus on What Matters Most. While there are many reasons to get healthy, you should focus on what’s important to you, whether it’s spending time with family and friends or doing an activity you love. You’re more likely to stick with a care plan if you have a goal.

“There are a number of things you can easily do to get healthier and decrease your risk of kidney disease, starting with regular testing,” says Dr. Jeffrey Hymes, chief medical officer at Fresenius Kidney Care.

After Gloria was diagnosed with kidney disease, she didn’t expect to walk, drive or live alone again. But she draws strength from her family, stays active and is able to do all of those things. “I get myself to do something every day. If you don’t let negative things turn you around, you’ll be successful,” said Gloria, who is active in her sorority and church and volunteers with children. “The person who I think gives me the greatest amount of encouragement is my little 7-year-old grandniece named Kendall. It’s wonderful when you have a little person in your heart and in your life to keep you going.”

“Patients like Gloria show that focusing on what you love is a powerful factor in coping with kidney disease,” says Dr. Hymes. “Kidney patients and their care teams should address both the physical and emotional aspects of their health and focus on their ‘why’ as part of their treatment plan.”

Learn more about kidney disease by visiting www.freseniuskidneycare.com.