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Quick guide to protecting kidney health

by KATHY HUBBARD / Contributing Writer
| March 27, 2024 1:00 AM

Let’s assume everyone knows that the kidneys regulate body fluid levels, filter wastes and toxins from the blood, and release a hormone that controls blood pressure. They also activate vitamin D for healthy bones, release the hormone that produces red blood cells, and keep blood minerals in balance. What we might not know is that one in three people are at risk for kidney disease.

“Kidney disease is a major public health concern,” The National Kidney Foundation’s website says. “Kidney disease often goes undetected until it is very advanced. Unfortunately, this is when someone would need dialysis or a transplant.”

So, it’s not rocket science. We all should assess our risk, get tested, and hopefully not be one of the 40% of adults who have kidney disease and don’t know it.

Maybe I should tell you what issues kidney disease can cause. Conditions such as heart disease, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, weak bones, nerve damage, and anemia can be attributed to kidney disease, and it can put your life at risk.

NKF says that if you and/or a member of your family have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, or a family history of kidney failure, you are at risk. Additional risk factors include being over 60, having a low birth weight, using NSAIDs over a long period, having lupus and some other autoimmune diseases, chronic urinary tract infections, or kidney stones.

“Most people with early kidney disease have no symptoms, which is why early detection is critical. By the time symptoms appear, kidney disease may be advanced, and symptoms can be misleading,” they say.

They also say to “pay attention” to these signs: fatigue, weakness, difficult, painful urination, foamy urine, pink, dark urine, increased thirst, increased need to urinate, especially at night, puffy eyes, and swollen face, hands, abdomen, ankles, and feet.

Your primary care provider can perform three simple tests. If the PCP doesn’t recommend them, you should ask for them, although in my experience, they’re part and parcel of a regular exam. First, a blood pressure test; then a urine test to check for traces of a type of protein, albumin, which may be an early sign of kidney disease; and thirdly, a GFR (glomerular filtration rate) blood test, which measures how well kidneys are filtering the blood.

NKF says there are six things people with kidney disease should do:

1. Lower high blood pressure. 

2. Manage blood sugar levels. 

3. Reduce salt intake. 

4. Avoid NSAIDs. 

5. Moderate protein consumption, and 

6. Get an annual flu shot.

Then they say there are nine things everyone should do:

1. Exercise regularly.

2. Control weight.

3. Follow a balanced diet.

4. Quit smoking. 

5. Drink only in moderation.

6. Stay hydrated.

7. Monitor cholesterol levels.

8. Get an annual physical, and 

9. Know your family medical history.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that kidney disease has varying levels of seriousness. “It usually gets worse over time, though treatment has been shown to slow progression. If left untreated, chronic kidney disease can progress to kidney failure. When the kidneys stop working, dialysis or kidney transplant is needed for survival.”

But, on the flip side of that bad news is that not all patients with kidney disease progress to kidney failure. The CDC agrees with the NKF that those at risk should get tested yearly, make lifestyle changes, take medicine as needed, and see their healthcare team regularly.

If you don’t have a primary care provider, Bonner General Health has two clinics that may fit your needs. The Family Practice Clinic is accepting new patients. Call 208-265-2221 to schedule an appointment. And Paige T. Russell, DNP NP-C, is accepting new patients at the Internal Medicine Clinic. That number is 208-263-6876.

Finally, I want you to know that kidney diseases are a leading cause of death in the United States. And it’s here in the U.S. that diabetes and high blood pressure account for three out of four new cases. Please take your kidney health seriously.

And seriously, if you have a topic that you would like me to address in this column, don’t hesitate to send me an email at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.


Kathy Hubbard is a member of the Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.