What is Diabetic Nephropathy?
Diabetes related kidney disease, also known as diabetic nephropathy, is a serious condition related to both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chronic kidney disease is quite common among those with diabetes with approximately 1 in 3 adult diabetics developing the disease. The CDC goes on to recommend that anyone who has diabetes should make it a point to discuss their individual risk with their doctor, and have their kidneys checked regularly, which can be done by your doctor with simple blood and urine tests.
How your kidneys work and how diabetes can lead to damage
Your kidneys are amazing organs about 10-15 centimeters long and shaped like a kidney bean. They’re filled with millions of tiny fibers called nephrons that act as filters, removing the unnecessary waste from your blood while keeping in the good stuff, like useful proteins and red blood cells, that are too large to pass through the fibers.
Diabetes throws a wrench into this process by damaging the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys and doing a number on those filtering nephrons, so they can’t do their job as well as they once did. This happens because diabetes elevates blood sugar levels which requires the kidneys to work harder and filter greater volumes of blood. After running too hard for too long a period, the kidneys become damaged and being to leak, allowing those important proteins your body needs to be lost in the urine. Compounded with factors like high blood pressure, a common condition among those with diabetes that puts added stress on the kidneys, things can eventually reach a threshold and serious kidney disease occurs. This is a very serious health concern because, if left unchecked, there will come a time when the kidneys become so damaged that they simply fail, leading to the need for a kidney transplant or dialysis treatment.
What are the signs of diabetes-related kidney disease?
The answer to this question is one of the reasons kidney disease is such a dangerous diabetes-related complication. In the early stages, there are usually no telltale symptoms. Most people feel okay. You might notice a little more difficulty sleeping soundly, or you may see your appetite dwindle a bit, but there won’t be any clear signs you might be on your way to developing chronic kidney disease.
This is why both the CDC and the American Diabetes Association (ADA), remind everyone living with diabetes that it is vital to see your diabetes physician regularly. Your doctor can test your urine and blood to gauge your kidney function, plus they can check your blood pressure and other contributing factors to chronic kidney disease quickly and easily. Seeing your doctor is the only way be certain your kidneys are operating correctly. So do it!
Signs of Kidney Disease as it Progresses
As diabetic nephropathy (kidney disease) advances into the later stages, you are likely to see some more obvious symptoms. At this point, there is a strong likelihood the kidneys have already experienced some damage and it is important to see your doctor right away. According to the Mayo Clinic, these signs include:
– Swelling of feet, ankles, hands or even eyes
– Increased need to urinate
– Confusion or difficulty concentrating
– Nausea and/or vomiting
– Undo fatigue
– Elevated blood pressure
– Loss of appetite
– Shortness of breath
– Persistent itching
If you experience any of these signs of diabetes-related kidney disease, see your doctor ASAP. Remember, the longer kidney issues go untreated, the more likely you are to experience kidney failure.
Risk factors for diabetes-related kidney disease
Both individuals with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are at risk of developing kidney disease. There are some additional risk factors that can elevate your risk.
- Prolonged high blood sugar
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- Family history of diabetes or kidney disease
How to prevent kidney disease
It should come as no surprise that the best ways to reduce your risk of diabetic nephropathy have a lot to do with how well you manage your diabetes and the lifestyle choice you can make to diminish the risk.
- Control your diabetes and blood sugar
Diabetes related kidney damage is primarily the result of elevated blood sugar levels over a prolonged period of time. It’s absolutely vital to follow your doctor-recommended blood sugar testing and treatment program. Test regularly using an approved glucose meter and test strips. Or, if your doctor recommends a continuous glucose monitoring system (CGM), make sure you use it properly and have adequate sensors and transmitters.
Additionally, follow any doctor-prescribed medication plans to the letter, including insulin by syringe or pen needle, or any other diabetes medications your doctor includes in your personal diabetes health plan.
- Get high blood pressure under control.
High blood pressure exacerbates your risk of kidney disease. Check yours regularly and keep it below 140/90 (or any other target determined by your doctor). If you suffer from high blood pressure your doctor may recommend medication. Or you may be able to control it with lifestyle choices. Losing weight, eating healthy and limiting salt, and drinking less alcohol can all help you control blood pressure. By the way, these are also great ways to improve blood sugar control. It’s win/win.
- Be extra cautious when taking over-the-counter medication
Many non-prescription pain relievers that contain aspirin or ibuprofen can make the kidneys work a little harder than usual. If you have kidney issues this could lead to further kidney damage.
- Quit smoking
Smoking is horrible for your health in general. It’s also hard on the kidneys. If have diabetes and smoke, you could be making things a whole lot worse than they otherwise would be for your kidneys. Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation programs, support groups and other strategies to quit.
- Stop prediabetes before it’s too late
According to the CDC, an incredible 88 million adult Americans (that’s more than 1 in 3) have prediabetes. Of these people, 84% have absolutely no idea they qualify as prediabetic, and the vast majority are overweight. Studies show that losing 10% of your body weight and getting 150 minutes of physical activity each week can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes. If you’re overweight, ask your doctor to test you for prediabetes. It’s a simple blood test and the first step in avoiding the onset of diabetes and the health complications that can come with it, including kidney disease.
Diabetic nephropathy (kidney disease) is one of the most common diabetes-related complications, impacting both those with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Everyone with diabetes has some risk of developing kidney disease, however, with proper blood sugar control and smart lifestyle choices you can minimize that risk. As always, the best place to start is with your diabetes physician and care team. Ask your doctor about diabetes-related kidney disease and the best steps you can take to prevent it.
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