March is National Kidney Month! Did you know kidney disease is often referred to as a “silent disease,” because there are usually no symptoms during its early stages? In fact, as many as 90% of Americans who have chronic kidney disease (CKD) don’t know they have the disease until it is very advanced.
The good news is the earlier you find out you have kidney disease, the sooner you can take steps to protect your kidneys from further damage. Protecting your kidneys may allow you to continue to work, spend time with family and friends, stay physically active, and do other things you enjoy.
Finding out if your kidneys are struggling before you have symptoms gives you the opportunity to make changes to help keep your kidneys healthier for longer. Even if you have symptoms, you can take steps to slow the disease.
Take Steps to Help Protect Your Kidneys, and Have More Healthy Moments
Know Your Risk
- Even if you feel healthy, if you are over 60 or have risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease, consider talking with your doctor about getting tested for kidney disease. Your doctor can use your test results to work with you to develop a kidney care plan. Having a plan may reduce your risk for serious health problems, like heart attack and stroke, and give you more healthy moments.
Schedule Your Test
- Your doctor will use two quick tests to check for kidney disease—a urine test to check for damage and a blood test to check how well your kidneys are removing wastes from your blood. If your kidneys show signs of damage, your doctor may refer you to a kidney specialist, called a nephrologist, or recommend annual or more frequent testing.
Follow Your Kidney Health
- Your doctor can work with you to create a treatment or monitoring plan that fits your lifestyle, mobility, health status, and dietary needs. Your plan may include managing your existing risk factors for kidney disease, collaborating with a registered dietician to create a meal plan, or getting help to quit smoking. Because chronic kidney disease is progressive, it is very important to continue to follow your kidney health and to update your care plan as needed.
What Can I Do to Keep My Kidneys Healthy?
You can protect your kidneys by preventing or managing health conditions that cause kidney damage, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The steps described below may help keep your whole body healthy, including your kidneys.
During your next medical visit, you may want to ask your health care provider about your kidney health. Early kidney disease may not have any symptoms, so getting tested may be the only way to know your kidneys are healthy. Your health care provider will help decide how often you should be tested.
See a provider right away if you develop a urinary tract infection (UTI), which can cause kidney damage if left untreated.
Make Healthy Food Choices
- Choose foods that are healthy for your heart and your entire body: fresh fruits, fresh or frozen vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Eat healthy meals, and cut back on salt and added sugars. Aim for less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day. Try to have less than 10 percent of your daily calories come from added sugars.
Make Physical Activity Part of Your Routine
- Be active for 30 minutes or more on most days. If you are not active now, ask your health care provider about the types and amounts of physical activity that are right for you. Add more activity to your life with these tips to help you get active.
Aim for a Healthy Weight
- The NIH Body Weight Planner is an online tool to help you tailor your calorie and physical activity plans to achieve and stay at a healthy weight.
- If you are overweight or have obesity, work with your health care provider or dietitian to create a realistic weight-loss plan. View more weight control and physical activity resources to help you get and stay motivated.
Get Enough Sleep
- Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. If you have trouble sleeping, take steps to improve your sleep habits.
- If you smoke or use other tobacco products, stop. Ask for help so you don’t have to do it alone. You can start by calling the national quitline at 1-800-QUITNOW or 1-800-784-8669. For tips on quitting, go to Smokefree.gov.
- Drinking too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure and add extra calories, which can lead to weight gain. If you drink alcohol, limit yourself to one drink per day if you are a woman and two drinks per day if you are a man. One drink is:
- 12 ounces of beer
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces of liquor
Explore Stress-reducing Activities
- Learning how to manage stress, relax, and cope with problems can improve emotional and physical health. Physical activity can help reduce stress, as can mind and body practices such as meditation, yoga, or tai chi.
Manage Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, and Heart Disease
If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease, the best way to protect your kidneys from damage is to
- Keep blood glucose numbers close to your goal. Checking your blood glucose, or blood sugar, level is an important way to manage your diabetes. Your health care team may want you to test your blood glucose one or more times a day.
- Keep your blood pressure numbers close to your goal. The blood pressure goal for most people with diabetes is below 140/90 mm Hg. Read more about high blood pressure.
- Take all your medicines as prescribed. Talk with your health care provider about certain blood pressure medicines, called ACE inhibitors and ARBs, which may protect your kidneys. The names of these medicines end in –pril or –sartan.
Be careful about the daily use of over-the-counter pain medications. Regular use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, can damage your kidneys. Learn more about over-the-counter medicines and your kidneys.
- To help prevent heart attacks and stroke, keep your cholesterol levels in the target range. There are two kinds of cholesterol in your blood: LDL and HDL. LDL or “bad” cholesterol can build up and clog your blood vessels, which can cause a heart attack or stroke. HDL or “good” cholesterol helps remove the “bad” cholesterol from your blood vessels. A cholesterol test also may measure another type of blood fat called triglycerides.
Ask your Health Care Provider Questions
Ask your health care provider the following key questions about your kidney health during your next medical visit. The sooner you know you have kidney disease, the sooner you can get treatment to help protect your kidneys.
- Key questions for your health care provider:
- What is my glomerular filtration rate (GFR)?
- What is my urine albumin result?
- What is my blood pressure?
- What is my blood glucose (for people with diabetes)?
- How often should I get my kidneys checked?
- Other important questions:
- What should I do to keep my kidneys healthy?
- Do I need to be taking different medicines?
- Should I be more physically active?
- What kind of physical activity can I do?
- What can I eat?
- Am I at a healthy weight?
- Do I need to talk with a dietitian to get help with meal planning?
- Should I be taking ACE inhibitors or ARBs for my kidneys?
- What happens if I have kidney disease?