March is National Kidney Month and March 8, 2012, is World Kidney Day – and the perfect time to evaluate the health of these vital organs. According to the National Kidney Foundation, more than 26 million American adults have chronic kidney disease (CKD) and many more are unaware they are at risk.
“Chronic kidney disease is often referred to as the ‘silent disease’ because it develops slowly and often with few symptoms,” says Mitchell Strand, MD, chief medical officer of Touchstone Health HMO. “Knowing if you are at risk, proper screening and practicing a healthy senior lifestyle can help maintain the health of these hard-working organs.”
Healthy kidneys filter water and waste through the body but, over time, damage can occur that prevents them from performing these functions properly and can eventually lead to complete renal failure. The leading causes of CKD are diabetes and high blood pressure but people over the age of 60 also have an increased risk. Other factors include a family history of CDK and certain ethnic backgrounds including African-American, Hispanic, Asian, or Pacific Islander.
Many of the symptoms of CDK are subtle and sometimes can be dismissed as part of aging or other disease, but, if you are at risk, it is important to take note. Symptoms include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Loss of appetite or unexpected change in weight
- Urinating more often, especially at night
- Nighttime muscle cramps
- Puffiness around the eyes or swollen feet, ankles, face or hands
- Excessive dry skin
- Increased thirst
If you or a member of your family are at risk or have symptoms, it is important to work with your primary physician to test blood pressure and kidney performance. If you are diagnosed with CDK, there are immediate steps you can take to so that its complications can be prevented or delayed. Keep your blood-sugar levels and blood pressure under control and reduce the amount of salt and protein in your diet. Also, avoid NSAID painkillers and be sure to get an annual flu shot. Depending upon your diagnosis, you may qualify for Medicare kidney disease education to help delay and prevent complications.
Since all senior citizens have an increased risk of CDK, maintaining healthy habits can help kidney function as well as reduce the risk of other chronic diseases. Easy steps to building healthy habits are regular exercise, a balanced diet, smoking cessation, and low alcohol consumption.
CDK can lead to other serious health issues such as cardiovascular disease and kidney failure. If left untreated, it can be fatal – so educate yourself and visit your primary doctor to screen for this ‘silent killer.’